King Kenny being sacked by the Anfield hierarchy is utter nonsense - for now - but the Scot must improve Liverpool’s league prospects next season
This season has ultimately proved to be a challenging one for Kenny Dalglish’s first full Premier League season managing the giant that is Liverpool, and it has been a truly bittersweet experience at times.
It would be fair to say that recent results in the Premier League have been extremely poor for Liverpool and are, quite frankly, unacceptable. 2012 has seen the Anfield club lose 3-1 away to Bolton Wanderers, 1-0 away at Sunderland, 3-2 away to Queens Park Rangers, and the most recent loss being a 2-1 defeat at home to Wigan Athletic.
These are bitter pills to swallow for a club of the size and stature of Liverpool, but have been sweetened by the victory in the Carling Cup final against Cardiff City and at least another trip to Wembley with a Merseyside derby in the FA Cup semi-final. The club has waited 16 years for a day out at the home of football, and now they have two, perhaps even three visits to the national stadium, with the possibility of winning two out of the three competitions they have been involved in.
This season has very much been a paradox for Liverpool, with success in the cup competitions offset by disappointment in the league. Liverpool are currently 7th in the Premier League, 8 points behind 6th placed Newcastle United, one of the surprise packages of this season, and only two points ahead of city rivals, Everton, who look once more to be ending the season much better than they start it.
On the one hand, Dalglish must take the responsibility for his teams present league position and many of the signing’s he has paid good money for have been more miss than hit. At left-back, José Enrique has undoubtedly been a fine acquisition from Newcastle for £7 million and, in my opinion, is a contender for the left-back slot in both the PFA team of the year and, perhaps more importantly, the Spanish national team. As free transfers go, Craig Bellamy is up there with one of the best that have gone around, often being the driving force behind Liverpool in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez. It is just a shame that, due to persistent injury problems, he is restricted to playing only one game per week.
However, much of the money spent by Dalglish on expensive acquisitions has not thus far been great success stories. Jordan Henderson for instance, a £20 million acquisition from Sunderland and at only 21-year-old, does not yet look like the pedigree of midfielder that Liverpool have thrived off of over the past six or seven seasons. Charlie Adam, the shining light of Blackpool in their Premier League cameo last season, has sometimes looked out of his depth when appearing in a red shirt this campaign, perhaps a side-effect of coming from a club where he was undoubtedly the star player. Stewart Downing, a fairly decent Premier League winger, but no more than that and certainly not international class, has only two assists from wide positions in the league to his name this season. Like Henderson, Downing has far from justified his £20 million transfer fee. The biggest flop of them all however, has unquestionably been the most expensive English player in history in £35 million Andy Carroll. Essentially signed as a replacement for Fernando Torres, the target man has been far from a permanent fixture in Kenny Dalglish’s starting 11 as the Scot has often opted to use Suárez as a lone striker. It was not until the Uruguayan was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra that the former Newcastle United forward was granted a sustained run in the team, one that unfortunately coincided with a recent dire set of results.
Liverpool are thus unquestionably a side in transition but, unlike the powers that be at Chelsea, the Fenway Sports Group board are highly unlikely to sack Dalglish and appear to realise that his vision will take time to implement. With Liverpool’s present league position taken into consideration, as well as the squad of players Dalglish currently has at his disposal, could it perhaps be said that Liverpool are performing to their limit and that, realistically, are they better than the sides above them? The answer is surely a resounding no.
With this present squad of players, many of them, particularly the new recruits, have not finished higher than 6th place in the Premier League. The highest Stewart Downing ever finished with Aston Villa was 6th, José Enrique finished 12th last season with Newcastle and Charlie Adam was relegated with Blackpool, lest we forget.
Moreover, this is also being achieved without a fit Steven Gerrard for much of the season, which has been a massive blow for Liverpool. The hat trick he scored against Everton typified the leadership qualities and the class that he can bring to his hometown club. I don’t think I can ever recollect a player who can lift a team and make as much of a difference on the pitch as the 31-year-old can.
Within these circumstances, it is easy to understand why the Anfield club currently find themselves at the outer edges of the European places in terms of league position. Changes in the playing personnel may well have to be made in the summer, and the owners must back the manager to do that. As far as this season is concerned, Liverpool may well find themselves 30 points behind the Manchester clubs, but with the Carling Cup in the bag as well as qualification for the Europa League and the potential for the FA Cup too, then this season can still unquestionably be described as a successful one and that, more pertinently, Dalglish should not be sacked.
The concern will be that if, hypothetically, Liverpool win either the FA Cup or the League Cup again next season, but find themselves 40 points behind the sides at the helm at the Premier League, then questioning Dalglish’s position at Anfield would definitely have solid foundations and action may well have to be taken. The summer transfer window and the remainder of this season are crucial to Liverpool to continue this rebuilding process.
But, for now, he must be given the time that his counterpart at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas, was not.