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Kenny Dalglish - comeback king

Saviour of LFC in their hour of need, or fight he'd been wiser to stay out of?

Written by . Published on January 12th 2011.

Kenny Dalglish - comeback king

WE'VE all seen it: two in the morning, a gang of people all surrounding an emotional bloke who is pulling to get away from them.

Eventually, he will shake one arm free, and, as he drags a desperate friend who is frantically digging in his heels and clinging on for dear life towards an ugly showdown, a plaintive cry will ring out: “Just leave it! It’s not worth it!”

under the last two clowns, Dalglish adopted the look of a man who knew his daughter had married an idiot but didn’t want to rock the boat

Such as it was when the call went out to King K from a desperate football chairman, except it was 1990 and the K stood for Kendall. Howard dropped what he was doing (Manchester City) and legged it down the Lancs like Alan Ladd in Shane.

Unfortunately, like Shane, he ended up being shot in the back and limped out of town on his horse with the Gwladys Street shouting “Come back Howard!” as tears streaked their desperate faces in 1993.

Eventually, or unfortunately, Howard did return to Everton, in 1997, but both the man and the club were a pale imitation of before, and when the time came for him to go he was led from the room like a great granddad who had just let off at the dinner table: everyone pretended it hadn't happened and silently stared at their plates.

Another legendary Liverpool K is the one called Keegan. King Kev (on Tyneside) warmed up Dalglish’s number seven strip in the 1970s - days when you changed your shirt at the end of the season, not the end of the first half .

When he retired from playing, Keegan was swept into the sky from the pitch by helicopter still wearing his boots and proclaiming he would never work in football again. The new fangled light bulb scoreboard spelled out the words “Auf Weidersehen Kev” and one can only guess its Geordie operator had a crystal ball, because as any one knows, it means “until we see again”.

And, true enough, eight years later, Kev was back like a bubble-permed terminator, gripping Newcastle by the throat and dragging them from the foothills to near the pinnacle of English football. If it hadn’t have been for that ruddy Scotsman at Old Trafford he would have ascended into the sky at St James Park in a ball of light on the shoulders of Geordie angels.

The following year he was gone, many said he was broken as much by the loss to Liverpool in the legendary 4-3 game than by losing the title.

Few can forget his fragile appearance towards the end of 1996, nor the Geordies outside the ground who shed so many tears one wondered if someone had opened a C.S gas factory near by.

His departing statement proclaimed he no longer wished to stay in management, but King Kev was soon back in a shell suit at Fulham and then England. We all wanted him for England: people talked about passion and pride, and players beating their chest. However, they ended up beating the ground, and Keegan left the pitch at Wembley ashen faced and wishing he’d ordered another helicopter to whizz him out of the press conference.

He soon turned up at Man City, and did fairly well in the days before City resembled Matt Lucas in a wheelchair (“I want that one... I don’t like it now...”). But his heart wasn’t in it and Kev announced his retirement from football in 2005. And that was the last we ever saw of him... because surely it can’t have been him who stood before the still-sobbing toon army, arms raised and beaming smile on his face in January 2008? Then, eight months later, his arms were firmly folded and it was the chairman of Kleenex beaming. King Kev had abdicated again.

A Geordie pal remarked: “I wish he hadn’t come back. It was too sad to see him struggling towards the end”.

All which brings us to our third K - King Kenny. I like Kenny Dalglish. He once helped me carry a box into Melwood and then spent five minutes looking for the receptionist. When she couldn’t be found, he apologised and signed for a Ford Transit clutch kit. It was a normal, decent thing to do, from a normal, decent man. It would be difficult to imagine Jose Mourinho doing the same.

These last couple of years it’s been hard to watch him in the stands at Anfield: under the last two clowns, Dalglish adopted the look of a man who knew his daughter had married an idiot but didn’t want to rock the boat.

So when Benitez left and he made it known that he would like another crack at managing I was worried. Worried he’d been too long out the game, that most of the players he was meant to inspire had never seen him play - and some probably didn’t even know who he was.

With that in mind, many breathed a sigh of relief when Roy stepped into the breach. Liverpool had a decent manager who could steer them through the tough transition under new owners. Alas, it wasn't to be. Whether it was the players not wanting to play, or the man not knowing how to play them, the debate is academic, because on Friday a phone rang in Dubai and Kenny put down his golf club, and picked up his football club.

Watching him at Old Trafford just 48 hours later was difficult to take. It’s easy to forget he is four years younger than Roy, and ten younger than Sir Alex, he seems to have been around for so long.

But on Sunday he looked strangely fragile as the camera closed in on his face, his cheeks flushed and watery eyes despairing as Man U scored early on. For fairy tale, read Grimm one.

I hope King Kenny doesn’t come to resemble the haunted figure who sat mute as his resignation statement was read for him 20 years ago. Red and Blue felt his pain as he struggled to come to terms with Hillsborough - and both sides of Merseyside raised a smile as his Blackburn lifted the title five years later.

But if a week is a long time in politics ten years is a lifetime in football. From the side he’s watched the game evolve, but the players and their agents are a different breed from his last Anfield squad.

Even if the boardroom has now stabilised, the club is still finding its place in the new generation of billionaires playing fantasy football.

Spurs, City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U are now trying to squeeze into the top four, and the scraps below are contested by teams that are only a hairsbreadth apart in style, talent and finance.

Nevertheless, Liverpool’s Special K has ridden into town - for a showdown he could easily have walked away from.

Who cannot hope, when it's all over, he is able to say “It was worth it.”?

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saladdazeJanuary 10th 2011.

What produces football success? 'Success' for those who run footy means spreadsheet stuff and this is not always the same as a successful 'customer experience'. (Ask any Ryanair passenger if that needs explaining.) Anyone Waiting For Eric might think success is a club which nurtures and respects its staff, which is loyal to and invests in the community which produced it, which is passionate about skill on the field as well as franchising off, which understands flair and panache, which has a sense of humour and honour, which doesn't insult its followers by rewarding the antics of hooligans. Changing managers occasionally produces the Hawthorn effect of around 2 points. But one new (or old) foreman can't revolutionise the economic model and the jaded plant. Buying in incompatible bits and pieces (or overseas stars) can't make up for systemic failure. The system is corrupt, it's run largely by the corrupt. All the romance and nostalgia in the world won't repair the mess of decadent declining capitalism. And I dedicate this emerging analysis to No Jose Way, a nom de plume of taste and discernment.

Tower of BabelJanuary 11th 2011.

I suspect King Kenny will be out of his depth in the new theatre of football where overpaid, arrogant and not very bright young men are venerated by men and women of all ages.

If football were played on a table, it would be the agents making all the moves, not the players.

This is no longer a noble sport, it's no longer a sport and Kenny would have been wiser to have stayed in the stands.

AnonymousJanuary 11th 2011.

At least they have got the option of getting Kevin Keegan and Howard Kendall in when it all goes titz up.

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