Kenneth Dalglish – Player. Manager. Legend – had long been hailed as Liverpool’s messiah. But after a cripplingly disappointing 8th place finish, behind local rivals Everton, the King was finally put to the sword.
Not that his second tenure as Liverpool manager was wholly unsuccessful. Far from it. In terms of style, pass-and-move was once again the Liverpool groove as Kenny brought back the ethos that made Liverpool such a towering force during his playing days. He led the club to Carling Cup glory and the FA Cup final – ending a six year wait for a trophy at Anfield. But it was not enough for FSG, who made clear at the start of the season that a top-four spot was the ‘minimum requirement.’
They were as good as their word. Kenny was jetted off to Boston for crunch talks with the unhappy owners. As rumours of his departure flooded Twitter, the Anfield faithful were in denial: ‘These talks were planned months ago ... don’t believe it until it happens.’
But it did happen. On the 16th May 2012, the club announced that Dalglish’s contact had been terminated: ‘After a careful and deliberative review of the season, the Club came to the decision that a change was appropriate. It is not a decision that was reached lightly or hastily. The search for a new Manager will begin immediately.’
It is no surprise that the club didn’t want to waste any time in their pursuit for a replacement. Kenny’s departure left behind a gaping void that desperately needed plugging with a top-tier manager if FSG were to keep the Kop on-side. After all, Liverpool supporters have always been naturally suspicious of the money men, seeing them as outsiders to Shankly’s holy trinity of ‘the players, the manager and the supporters.’ The fans were instrumental in orchestrating the exile of previous American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette and, although John W Henry seems to have bucked the trend by winning the fans over, after sacking the revered Dalglish he had enough reason to be a little concerned about the prospect of history repeating itself. Liverpool needed a manager, and they needed one now.
Cue a lengthy list of potential candidates; big names such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Fabio Capello, Andre Villas-Boas and Didier Deschamps. With rabid media speculation, it became hard to tell fact from fiction. With both Dalglish and Director of Football Damien Comolli having left the Club, FSG’s expertise was put to the test. How much did the Americans really know about football? (Sorry ... ‘soccer’?)
Initial attempts were poor, with figures like Klopp and Frank De Boer publicly rejecting Anfield’s advances. FSG seemed to be clutching at so many straws that, if they were to cast their net any wider, Mike Bassett would’ve been eagerly anticipating a phonecall.
Wigan’s Roberto Martinez briefly emerged as the new favourite, news that was met with a collective ‘meh’ from Liverpool’s supporters. After sacking Dalglish – with a huge haul of trophies under his managerial belt – the prospect of recruiting a man who’s most impressive achievement has been narrowly avoiding relegation for the last few years was somewhat underwhelming. But he soon distanced himself from the position and another came back into contention, one who had previously ruled himself out. Brendan Rodgers. The man who, ironically, contributed to Kenny’s downfall by beating the Reds 1-0 in their final game of the season.
The Swansea manager is an interesting choice; another who is largely unproven, and has built a reputation for success on a shoe-string budget. A protégé of Jose Mourinho, his appointment will also rekindle the close working relationship he formed with Steve Clarke when they were both at Chelsea, should Clarke keep his job.
Naming Barcelona as one of his tactical influences, Rodgers’ philosophy is simple: ‘I like to control games. I like to be responsible for our own destiny. If you are better than your opponent with the ball you have a 79 per cent chance of winning the game… for me it is quite logical. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, if you don’t have the ball you can’t score.’
The approach has won him widespread acclaim, but then possession was never really Liverpool’s problem. The team dominated possession in most games throughout the season, but struggled to capitalise on goal-scoring opportunities. They did, however, hit the woodwork 31 times, more than any other football team in a single season since records began.
This begs the question, was it simply a matter of luck that was Kenny’s downfall or, as the cliché goes, should top teams make their own luck? Underperforming, big money signings such as Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll undoubtedly contributed (although the latter improved drastically at the tail-end of the season), but there were also circumstances that were out of Dalglish’s control, such as the long-term injuries to key players Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. Many fans would argue that Dalglish wasn’t given enough time to reverse Liverpool’s fortunes. The debate will go on and, although Liverpool fans will no doubt offer Rodgers their support, his every failure will result in the question, ‘what if?’
Rodgers will need to start his Liverpool career with a string of positive results in order to win over the Kop. His tenure will be a nervous one. Every bad decision, every unsatisfactory result, like in a Macbeth play a Scottish ghost will appear at his shoulder. Just like Roy Hodgson was doomed by Kenny’s presence, Rodgers will be haunted by his memory.