Dalglish's transformation of Liverpool is undeniable
For the last few months, Liverpool has emitted a perceptible hum. In the red half of the city, groups of people chatter like charged particles, each collision redoubling the thrill, heightening the pitch of the buzz. It is not often in modern soccer -- where the phrase "results driven business" justifies every half-cocked decision -- that recruitment must grasp at something so ethereal, so wishy-washy or impressionist, as mood. But the swell of feeling around Anfield is so great as to pop your ears before you are through the turnstile: crown King Kenny.
"It was obvious to us very early on that the atmosphere surrounding the club had been transformed by his presence," said owner John W. Henry to reporters, announcing
There is an unavoidable nostalgia and romanticism in all of this, and so be it. Dalglish retired in 1991 and regretted his decision within weeks, a feeling shared by fans that have not seen their idols lift the league trophy since. He is an instant conduit to an era in which Liverpool battled for every title; after the last couple of years, it is no wonder that alone should plant huge grins on supporters' faces -- and they're legal tender round Anfield way. Of the hundreds of lines dedicated to the club's most revered manager, Bill Shankly, one still suffices: he made the people happy.
There may be a niggling doubt that it will carry Dalglish in today's Premier League. Coming in under the shadow of the brief but unforgettable Roy Hodgson era, Dalglish has been spared the midday sun of expectation. The euphoria that has greeted his appointment cannot help but translate into newly elevated hopes next season; while it is virtually impossible to imagine a single supporter calling for his head, the effect on the manager if those are not met is not quite so easy to predict. But it is hard to take in the past few months without concluding that Dalglish -- part-bootroom, part-superstar -- is absolutely the right person to lead Liverpool back to the future.
In the tradition of great Liverpool managers, Dalglish's man-management is a wonderful asset. Though he tried, at Thursday's press conference, to spare his predecessor the inevitable comparison between what each had achieved with largely the same group of players (and of course, Hodgson did not have Andy Carroll, or the
That ethos has been evident on the pitch, where players such as Jack Robinson and John Flanagan have moved into the starting lineup without disturbing things the way 17- and 18-year-olds often do at this level, particularly in defensive positions. Throughout Flanagan's assured debut performance against Manchester City last month the support he received from the players around him, making themselves available for simple passes, ensured he was not exposed to trouble.
Perhaps Dalglish has been forced by circumstance (a considerable injury list) to field them so soon, and certainly the readiness of Liverpool's youth products is credit to Rafa Benitez. If the former manager replanted the orchard, the incumbent has watered it and picked the ripest fruit without bruising it. When Fabio Aurelio was injured after 20 minutes against Arsenal, Dalglish sent Robinson on as if it had been part of his plan all along, delivering instructions on how to deal with Theo Walcott through a broad smile as he slapped the youngster on the back.
The promise of Liverpool's youth is a big part of the surge of pheromones on Merseyside, but the changes in the rest of the team have hardly been insignificant. At times Hodgson spoke of his squad like an unlucky trainer taking a pack of mules to the Kentucky Derby, gloomily bemoaning the tactics forced upon him by their inability to keep pace with everyone else's thoroughbreds.
Now, players such as Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez, bolstered by the impish influence of Suarez, are playing in the spirit of schoolboys. Even at 5-1 earlier this week, they prowled around Fulham's lines looking to make mischief. Midfielders Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing were both part of the poor squad Benitez was supposed to have left behind, yet both are playing well enough to be considered part of Liverpool's future rather than trapped in its depressing recent past.
The 33 points taken from the last 48, the subsequent leap from 12th to fifth in the table, the swing in goal difference from -3 to +18 in a run of results that includes wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City: all have fired up Anfield's imagination. In place of the fear of Liverpool's post-Fernando Torres, post-Steven Gerrard days is the welcome certainty that the club has benefited from the departure of the former and can already cope with the eventual retirement of the latter.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina had a foot out of the door at the turn of the year but confirmed Friday he'd be at Liverpool next season."I am looking forward to next season," Reina said to reporters. "I have always said [that] -- of course there was a bit of doubt back in December and January because we were not even close to where we are now.
"We have had excellent news on Kenny's contract and all of the technical staff. We are heading in the right direction and we are optimistic."
Steve Clarke's simultaneous permanent appointment as first-team coach ensures that the reaction to Dalglish (and the parallels drawn between him and Shankly) is not just poetic. The support of such canny backroom staff will be crucial.
"You identify your faults and bring in someone that's better than you at what you can't do," Dalglish explained Thursday, acknowledging that his