Kenny Dalglish is the new permanent manager of Liverpool Football Club. The caretaker manager since January, Kenny is now back in his old job and has a three year contract to go with it. To say Liverpool fans are happy about that is an understatement along the lines of describing Tom Hicks and George Gillett as not being very good for LFC.
The news was revealed on the club’s official website just before Kenny’s regular weekly pre-match press-conference with those members of the media he sees each week. One of the worst-kept secrets since the club cut out the damaging off-record briefings we’d all grown tired of was that Kenny’s deal was agreed and would be announced at some point this weekend. Normally if there’s big news to be announced the club hold a press conference in front of the ‘big boys’ of the media but Kenny didn’t want that. He wanted to reward the lads he sees week in and week out at the normal press briefings to get this story and to ask the first questions.
Even that says a lot about the man. Whereas some managers will ban reporters for asking the difficult questions, even if it’s from their club’s own TV station, Kenny is spoken about warmly by all the reporters who speak to him on a regular basis. The ‘big boys’ missed out this time and although not all of them were by any means hostile towards him the one or two who suggested he should stick to golf might be glad they weren’t asked to come up here anyway on this occasion.
There’s a well-known phrase often used to describe Bill Shankly, the man who set the ball rolling on the years of success that Liverpool had up until Kenny’s departure last time round: “He made the people happy.” Kenny does too, in spades; but perhaps his phrase should be “He makes the people smile.” Because everybody in and around the club seems to be fixed with a permanent grin these days, except when that grin makes way for a big beaming smile.
For all the praise that went the way of those who ousted the former owners those efforts barely let them off the hook for what went on last summer. It wasn’t so much that they had overlooked Kenny; it was the way they went about it and how much worse it made an already perilous situation. After using him to add credibility to their search for a new boss they practically discredited him in the press conference that confirmed their choice was Roy Hodgson. They said they had better ideas in mind for Kenny. They never bothered to say what they were and the comments only strengthened the feelings that these may not be people to trust.
Hodgson took Liverpool into the relegation zone yet never took responsibility for his own failings. He went on record criticising players like Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson when they were out injured, he also went on the record to criticise his predecessor Rafael Benítez, not the best idea when – despite everything – Rafa still had huge respect from a sizable proportion of the supporters. Rumours of dressing room unrest wouldn’t go away and it was quite clear that people employed to defend or support him were finding it increasingly difficult to do so. When he accused the fans in the Kop of not being supporters he’d practically written out his own P45. He never understood the club, nor did the majority of those involved in hiring him.
We now find ourselves talking about what might have been had Kenny got the job last summer as most polls at the time seemed to suggest he should. Taking his results from the Wolves game onwards, after his first full week in the job, he’s managed 32 points from 14 games. That equates to a full-season points haul of just less than 87 points – more than the 82 point maximum that this season’s champions can manage. If he’d been manager from day one of the season, and been as successful throughout, it suggests he’d have won the league.
Kenny, however, won’t listen to any of that. It might be his past, that history and his legacy that helped him to get this much-wanted return to his throne but now he’s on it he’s far more interested in what can be done going forward than what might have been. He knows – and he’s demonstrated – how powerful unity is. He wants to ensure there is no return to the fractured relationships that have dragged the club down for more years than any of us would like to admit to. Kenny won’t stand for infighting, for backstabbing, for one person from the club briefing against another. He’s only the manager and he won’t tell anyone outside his own area of responsibility how to do their job – but everyone is looking towards him to see how exactly they should be going about doing their own jobs.
Steve Clark was also rewarded with a three-year deal announced today and these contracts follow recent announcements of long-term deals for the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing. In January the club sold Fernando Torres (as per his request) and Ryan Babel, spending the proceeds on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. All of these deals represent a pricey commitment for LFC, but some critics are quietly pointing out that, apart from the significant amount they spent paying off the acquisition debt, FSG haven’t put their hands in their pockets very much so far. Although that is true, on the face of it, the club insist that the Suarez deal was already lined up and that this summer will see some decent spending done to strengthen a squad that – as good as Kenny’s shown everyone it is – mustn’t be allowed to stand still or go backwards ever again.
Whatever kind of spending the owners plan for this summer there is huge relief and joy for the fans that the right man is going to be involved in spending it.
Our club is our own again and the party has finally started.