I wasn’t surprised to see King Kenny shown the Anfield exit yesterday. However, nor would I have been surprised if Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s Boston-based owners, had opted to stand by the man whom they themselves appointed only a year ago.
There were strong arguments supporting each course of action and whatever decision Liverpool’s American owners were to make would involve taking a risk.
Liverpool’s 2011/12 season is not an easy one to assess. Reaching the final of both domestic cup competitions in the same season is no mean feat, and in Liverpool’s case, it involved having to overcome the best two club sides in the country as well as Chelsea and Everton.
That the Reds couldn’t repeat their Carling Cup win over Chelsea when the two sides met in the FA Cup Final at Wembley may be the source of some regret at Anfield given that their opponents were far from being at their best. Once Liverpool got themselves going they were already 2-0 down, and the task was just too much of an ask in the time remaining.
As disappointing as it was, the FA Cup loss is unlikely to have had anything to do with Dalglish’s sacking, even though a return of two trophies would certainly have made FSG’s decision much more difficult – possibly resulting in a different outcome.
However, while the club’s results in cup competitions have been excellent, results in the Premier League have ultimately cost Dalglish his job – and that’s where progress really becomes difficult to measure.
Performances have generally been better than in either of the two previous seasons. It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that, with a couple of notable exceptions, Liverpool dominated all of their league fixtures in the first few months of the season.
Progress was clearly evident, as was the quality available throughout the squad despite the team’s difficulties in converting the many chances that were being created.
By February, Liverpool may have trailed the top three by some distance but fourth place remained a realistic goal. Only after a home defeat to Arsenal – another match in which Liverpool dominated and should have won – did the target of Champions League qualification appear unattainable, but even at that stage of the season it would have been unthinkable to imagine Kenny Dalglish losing his job.
Liverpool’s form in the three months following the loss to Arsenal is more likely to be the period of the season that has led to doubts in the minds of the owners as to whether Dalglish is still the man to get the most out of his players. Performances were poor, and were reflected by the results which followed.
Fulham won at Anfield for the first time in their history and in doing so, completed a league double over Liverpool without conceding a goal over the two games. Fulham were one of four teams that Liverpool failed to score against – a list which included Stoke as well as newly promoted Swansea. Meanwhile, West Brom won their first match at Anfield in 25 attempts dating back to 1967 and Wigan, who were being kept off the bottom of the table only on goal difference, also went home from Merseyside with all three points.
For all of the positives on show, there have been too many signs of a team simply not making the progress expected of them, which gave FSG two important questions to answer.
Firstly, was there a confidence that Dalglish would be able to guide Liverpool back into the Champions League next season with largely the same group of players who have been involved in the club’s lowest league placing for 18 years?
Putting aside all loyalty to Dalglish, it would be easy to understand why the owners would have doubts, especially when bearing in mind that having recognised at the turn of the year that all Liverpool were missing was better finishing, Dalglish found himself unable to bring about an improvement during the second half of the season.
Secondly, was there a trust in Dalglish’s ability to invest wisely, particularly after spending large amounts on players who have yet to represent good value for money?
Again, there are difficulties in defending last summer’s transfer dealings, when huge sums were invested in players specifically brought to Anfield in order to boost Liverpool’s prospects in the league.
The players brought in were those who knew the Premier League and who wouldn’t need the time to adjust to the style of English football. It’s not fair to make a final judgement of each player on the basis on one year, though not one summer signing can yet be considered a success at Liverpool.
When considering issues such as the above, John W Henry and co have clearly concluded that too many question marks remain over whether Dalglish is the man who they trust to help realise their ambitions for LFC.
Whilst I feel that any manager appointed at any club should be given at least two full seasons before he is under threat, it’s obviously important that the manager has the board’s full support at the start of the season. Any lack of confidence in Dalglish would only be highlighted further if, for example, Liverpool were to start next season badly, and uncertainties over the manager’s position once the season had started would only contribute to an unhelpful atmosphere at the club and threaten to destabilise the whole campaign.
For that reason, and taking into account the doubts that quite clearly exist in Boston, removing Dalglish immediately is probably the right move, even if it means losing a few friends on the Kop in the process. The success of FSG’s next managerial appointment will determine whether any frustration towards them for dismissing a Liverpool legend can be quickly forgotten.
Dalglish won’t leave the Anfield dugout as a manager who has failed, but rather as one who has succeeded in steadying a ship which has endured much turmoil over the last 2-3 years.
And despite the lowly Premier League finish, Liverpool FC is a much more attractive job to a potential new manager than it has been at any stage during the previous two years.
For that, Dalglish deserves more credit than anyone.