In all “honesty” can anyone really say that Dalglish is the man to take Liverpool forward?
After the FA Cup final Dalglish said, "We will wait and assess the season, and everything that contributes to the season, after the games are finished. I cannot be any more honest than that.” When Liverpool fans reflect and assess this season, can they truly be filled with satisfaction or a feeling of deflation? In all “honesty” can anyone really say that Dalglish is the man to take Liverpool forward?
This season there have been many mistakes made and already people at the top have paid for it; Comolli has been relieved due to the poor transfers, the director of communications, Ian Cotton, is to leave the club due to his handling of the Suarez affair and the head of sports medicine and sports science Peter Brukner left just after Comolli. Clearly the Fenway Sports Group are not pleased with how things have gone this season, yet surely, the man who is most culpable is Dalglish.
Last year appeared to be the start of a new era at Anfield, (apparently they were days away from administration before being bought by the Fenway Sports Group) positive signs were shown immediately will the acquisitions of Suarez and Carroll and results at the tail end of the season appeared to show that Liverpool were back on track. The summer appeared to promise much, talk of heavy investment and improvement of the squad all sounded very positive. Yet it turns out that poor decisions contributed to a somewhat mediocre and often times disastrous season.
Currently Liverpool lie in 7th with one game left, based on results this weekend there is the possibility that Liverpool could end the season 6th, above their rivals Everton. With a League Cup, a runners up medal in the FA Cup and Europa League football next season, can Liverpool fans be positive and confident about the future, or apprehensive about their chances of getting back into the top four?
The failed project
Many excuses have been made about this season; the woodwork has been blamed, the Suarez-Evra incident has affected matters and the new crop of players are finding their feet as though playing for a great side like Liverpool is such a daunting experience. In all these instances there is one man who is accountable, one man who has overseen and presided over just 14 wins this season; Kenny Dalglish. Since Christmas Liverpool have won only five games, lost ten and drawn three, a points tally of 18 is relegation form. The most worrying factor about these statistics is that only two wins have come at home in 2012.
This season the project which John Henry wanted Damien Comolli to implement, the Moneyball model, has been a failure. Seeking players with good stats is only part of it, the key was to get them at reduced value, this did not happen, resulting in the fans and media to question the cost and quality of these acquisitions. In hindsight these players should not have been bought, whether it was Dalglish or Comolli, the sums didn’t make sense and the season has been a reflection of that. When you look at acquisitions like Pappis Cisse, Jelovic and Cabaye and the performances of Liverpool’s purchases, then it is not surprise that Liverpool’s transfer policy has been questioned.
In a summer where stability was found for the first time in years and with investment that had been lacking in recent seasons, the foundations were in place to push this team forwards. However, the purchases have reflected the old school mindset of Dalglish and his views on English football. His reliance on purchasing British players has prevented Liverpool from being a force this season. It is no secret that English players come at a premium and is no further surprise when they don’t perform to warrant their transfer fees. It shows that it is not the amount you spend but the quality you bring in, the way you manage the players that arrive and how they fit into the system you wish to implement. Ultimately he has tried to change the side to accommodate his signings instead of bringing in players to complement the formation and team.
Successful season? Bright future?
After the win against Chelsea this week there were fans on social media spouting that the 4-1 result meant that this Liverpool side had found their feet; Carroll and Henderson in particular now worth every penny. This short term, small minded mentality is what is wrong with many fans around the country, and Liverpool fans seem particularly prone to this, seemingly able to ignore the problems and highlight only the positives. There is nothing wrong with being positive, but a sense of realism is certainly required. Last weekend Liverpool played Chelsea in the FA Cup final, a game which meant everything to Liverpool. The previous game against Fulham was one of the worst performances from Liverpool all season, the players who came in really didn’t perform, showing the lack of quality to this side. However, it appeared that league position would not matter if they won the FA Cup, yet momentum is such an important thing and with performances being very sporadic and uncertain, it was not simply possible to turn good form on and off. And it showed.
The 4-2-3-1 can be a great formation if you have the right players, however in the final Dalglish and Clarke got it very wrong. Playing Suarez as an isolated number 9 was a mistake, he is best when he drops into the hole and links up play, effectively you want your best player on the ball, so why take him out the game? As for Gerrard much has been said this season about his performances, about his lack of tactical discipline, some believing that he in-balances the side as he seeks to play “his own game”. When he moved next to Spearing he was able to do better, I believe that he is suited for that deep lying role, however his frustrating use of long highward balls are becoming tiresome. The truth is; Gerrard is not the player he was in 2005 when he was lifting the Champions League for his side, as with many players he has declined. This happens, yet many Liverpool fans and England fans for that matter won’t have it, they don’t want to believe that this powerhouse midfielder is not player he was. Unfortunately he isn’t and the sooner Liverpool move him to the periphery of the side the better.
As for Downing and Henderson they are simply not good enough or positive enough to play as high wingers, they lack the ability to drive inside and their reluctance to beat their defender, instead opting to pass back, was shameful. Both these players have clearly not enjoyed their season, whether this is their own failings to handle the pressure or Dalglish’s inability to bring out their best, either way, it is not promising for Liverpool. Downing’s best two performances have come against Cardiff and Brighton, now call me a cynic but if your best showings have been against Championship opposition then what does that say about yourself? As for the full backs, they did not provide enough attacking intent, which is strange considering that Johnson and Enrique are much better when attacking then defending. All in all it was a negative and over cautious display.
Blame the King
When looking at these players it is worrying that they have not hit the heights of their previous clubs, questions must be asked of the manager and how good his man management skills really are. When performances are poor is it the players who should be blamed or the manager? I said earlier on in the season, in the aftermath of the defeat to United at Old Trafford that if Dalglish did not achieve a top four finish, with the money he has spent and especially the issues that clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal have had, then he should leave his position at Anfield. After reflecting on this season now we are at the end, I believe this should be the case more than ever. Kenny Dalglish has tarnished the reputation of Liverpool this season; his performances with the media, his handling of the Suarez affair and his inability to bring out the best of the players he has bought have all reflected in the performances this season. If fans attempt to justify a good season based on the League Cup success then it is important to stress that it was only Liverpool who fielded their strongest side in all rounds. Credit to them for winning it, yet ask any other club around Liverpool what was more important and their answer would be everything else. And if the fans are content with current performances and Europa League football then they need to consider how “big” a club Liverpool really are anymore.
One can argue that Dalglish has mishandled Any Carroll too, I believe this is true. Now say what you want about Carroll, yet I do believe he has excellent attributes, the only problem is that I worry how much Liverpool and particularly Dalglish can get out of him. He has been used sparingly this season and clearly he does not have the trust of his manager. Yet recent form has shown that perhaps Carroll can cut it at Anfield. To be a cynic one could argue that his relatively reduced season has contributed to his added freshness in this period of the season, yet I think there is more to this than just that. Andy Carroll is a Newcastle lad, a player brought through the academy, adored by the fans not just because he was scoring goals but because he was one of them. As with many youth graduates, the fans adore you, however his move to Liverpool changed all that, now he wasn’t the fun Andy Carroll but the £35 million Liverpool number 9, expectations were exceedingly high and the pressure on his shoulders; where at Newcastle was minimal, now weighed the weight of the world.
Credit to Carroll then for coming through this ordeal, one which will make him stronger no doubt, he looks happier lately, looking settled for the first time; clean shaven, hair cut; important factors when assessing the mental state of someone. He has shown flashes of skill along with his ability to frustrate and dominate defences which makes you think that with Suarez behind him, they could be a real partnership. Remember Carroll is only 23 years old, relatively young for a player of his type. Comparisons to Crouch and Holt forget to state that both are 31 years old. Llorente is another who can be compared to Carroll, he is 27. I wonder how good Carroll can be in 4 years time, in 7 years time?! If it was up to me I would be sending Carroll to the Ukraine, he can be a focal point for both club and country and so he must gain the necessary experience.
Holy grail - Champions League
At the end of the day the key for any side in the Premier League is achieving a top four finish; the riches of the Champions League pale all else into insignificance. For the Fenway Sports Group and the new kit sponsor, Warrior, they want their brand to be global; this is achieved by qualifying for the Champions League. Ask Arsene Wenger what he would prefer, he makes sure his side reach this tournament over the winning of silverware, why, because it makes business sense. The Fenway Sports Group are business men who want to make money and advertise their brand, so the importance of playing Champions League football is huge.
Are Liverpool capable of achieving a top four finish then? On current form, with the current squad and managerial team, no. Liverpool need to do a lot this summer, those who believe they are just one player away from competing for the title are nothing short of delusional. Liverpool need to a centre back capable of coming in to replace Carragher and be a starter or at least give competition for a place. Carlos Cuellar will be released from Villa on a free this summer and would be an ideal player to add depth to the defence. Yet it is the midfield which needs the most work; the team that almost won the title had Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard supporting Torres up top.
These were top players and Liverpool played some of their best football that season. In Suarez they have Gerrard’s replacement, a modern number 10 who can link play, assist and score goals. However, behind him Charlie Adam, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing are not top four players and even though Gerrard could play next to Lucas next season, it may need another player in the ilk of Cabaye who can play in that position and feed the attack. Out wide Liverpool should do all they can to bring in Junior Hoilett who would be a great addition to the side and perhaps Loic Remy could be another strong option in the attack. Up top there has been talk of FC Twente’s Luke De Jong; at 21 he has scored 30 goals this season and appears ready for a move abroad, if Liverpool want more options and strength in depth, then De Jong may be the ideal player to partner Carroll or Suarez. I don’t think John Henry will spend big on one or two players, you have to wonder who would want to come to Anfield, names like Cavani, Falcao and Sneijder are wide of the mark. John Henry believes in the Moneyball system and will look instead to build the squad with good young players whose cost is not too high. This is why Comolli was relieved, he got the formula wrong. Can this propel Liverpool up the league? With the right man in charge it can.
Need for progress = change
So in order for Liverpool to progress, the key for the future of the club, must be to part ways with Dalglish. A major characteristic of being a manager is being able to deal with pressure, he has shown this season he struggles with that and I wonder how long it will be till Dalglish decides he can’t take it anymore? He has a history in previous jobs ofleaving due to stress and his performance when at Newcaslte must be a cause forworry for Liverpool fans; Dalglish ripped apart the team challenging for the league created by Keegan and put the club back years in regards to their title ambitions. His decision making was questioned, and it must be worrying how it seems all too familiar a story of poor transfers, poor decisions and subsequent poor performances. The best thing for Liverpool would be to call it a day now, wish him the best and bring in a manager who can take once great club forward. There has been talk of Johann Cryuff coming in to oversea a new era at Liverpool, this would be interesting yet the key is bringing in a man who can inspire the fans, the players and push Liverpool to the next level.
The question is, who is this right man? I would not be surprised to see Brendan Rogers or even Villa-Boas’s names being put into the mix with their attacking football philosophy yet I believe that Paul Lambert is a top quality manager who if given a job like Liverpool could achieve great things, similar almost to Ferguson at United. Only time will tell, yet expect major changes this summer as Liverpool reflect on a quite disappointing season.