If body language was part of the problem at Liverpool, then Kenny Dalglish is doing better. Not perfect, but certainly better. Roy Hodgson sent out a multitude of wrong signals by placing his right hand upon his chin and moving his forefinger back and forth when standing on the touchline, much like a doddering old man who had just discovered he was wearing his pyjamas while out shopping. Dalglish, on the other hand, merely shook his head gently in disbelief on Wednesday at the paucity of Liverpool's second-half efforts against Blackpool.
There was a moment in that second half when Sammy Lee barked out a series of instructions and Dalglish stood behind him with shoulders hunched, hands by his side, like an awkward teenager at a disco, not quite knowing what to do with himself. Overall, however, while Dalglish may have displayed a sense of incredulity in the two games since his return at the many faults evident in the side he has inherited, at least he hasn't regressed to the point where his body is screaming that he doesn't know how to fix it.
All this may seem incidental to Dalglish's task at Anfield, but it's not. His very appointment to the role was an exercise, not necessarily in appointing the best man to restore Liverpool's on-field fortunes, but in changing the mood surrounding the club and how it was being perceived on the outside. Therefore how Dalglish acts as manager of Liverpool, how he behaves in the role, is extremely important. From a results point of view, if he merely muddles through the rest of the season in much the same manner that Hodgson trudged through Liverpool's opening 20 league fixtures, but crucially, does so in a more confident, assured manner, then Dalglish will have achieved precisely what Fenway Sports Group (FSG) expected of him.
The irony in all this is piled high. Here is Dalglish, an introverted, short-tempered and dour Scot, just as likely, and indeed keen, to offer a smart answer rather than a considered one, being asked by the owners to change the depressing atmosphere surrounding the club and portray a sunny outlook to both the supporters and the rest of the world. It's something akin to asking Jack the Ripper to star in an advertisement for street safety in London.
From the outside, it is a confusing appointment. Although not from the inside, apparently. Much of the published or broadcast rhetoric of the past week has centred around the notion that Liverpool are a football club different to any other, a little bit more special perhaps, a club whose decisions might seem a little perplexing but if you were one of them, you'd understand why they were doing it. It has been mildly nauseating, at the very least, for supporters of other clubs to hear such esoteric language, not least because, to quote Arsene Wenger, "everybody thinks they have the prettiest wife at home". But even if you bought into the belief that Liverpool were somehow different to any other club, the events of last week marked them down as being exactly the same as so many others.
The appointment of Dalglish was not about returning the club to the supporters, or renewing the spirit of the club. It was about money and politics. FSG were worried about the value of their investment and deployed the most cynical trick in the club owner's book in order to protect it. In appointing a relic from Liverpool's past – and with Dalglish we do not mean relic in the pejorative sense, particularly given the incredible leadership he offered the club in the aftermath of Hillsborough – without him actually deserving the job on merit, FSG mimicked a long line of financially- and politically- motivated appointments.
When Alan Sugar ousted Terry Venables from Tottenham and needed to buy some credit with supporters, he appointed Ossie Ardiles. When Mike Ashley was no longer welcome for a pint in and around Newcastle's Bigg Market, he asked Kevin Keegan to take charge. When Keegan fell out with the owner and Ashley's standing dipped even further, he appointed Alan Shearer. Look at it another way. A common tactic among theatre producers in London's West End to boost ticket sales is to parachute a star name into their show, no matter how poorly they're suited to the role. It is precisely what FSG have done.
John Henry and Tom Werner appeared intent on standing by Hodgson, despite a miserable string of performances, until just 34,400 supporters turned up at Anfield for the game against Bolton. Money talks. Now, Liverpool are guaranteed full houses for the rest of the season. If you don't believe that the supporters of this different club have fallen for the oldest trick in the book, just go and try to purchase a ticket for Anfield between now and May. A new range of Dalglish merchandise in the club shop can't be too far off, either.
Of course, the desires of the supporters to be successful on the pitch and the owners to do so off it, are not necessarily mutually exclusive with regards the appointment of Dalglish. It's just that the evidence to suggest that the 59-year-old, after 10 years out of the game, has the requisite skills to manage a modern Premier League team is thin on the ground. His first two games in charge, certainly, haven't offered any proof to the contrary. Dalglish, admittedly, has only had a couple of days on the training ground with his team but the thinking seems entirely muddled. He played 4-4-2 in his first game, something approaching 4-1-4-1 against Blackpool and in his press conferences, rather than talk about specifics, he has concentrated on intangibles, like changing Liverpool's "luck" and "confidence".
Really, only a Liverpool fan doped up to the gills on nostalgia can really believe that King Kenny can lead this current side up the table. Dalglish made much of the fact that despite his 10 years out of the game, football was still about 22 men on the pitch, but everything surrounding those 22 has changed immensely. The game is faster, and while perhaps not more physical, it's certainly more of an athletic pursuit than in the 1980s, or even the 1990s. As a result, the technology used at the training ground, in terms of analysing fitness and performance, must be positively alien to Dalglish.
The players, meanwhile, are paid far more money, which holds problems for managers laying down the law, while the consequence of failure is now measured in tens of millions of pounds, and possible bankruptcy and job losses, rather than mere professional disappointment. Football's profile is also far higher across all forms of media, the scrutiny on each individual club 10 times magnified compared to before. This is probably best exemplified by Ryan Babel being charged for his recent twitter post. For Dalglish, it's an entirely different world.
When you put Dalglish's managerial career side-by-side with the many developments in British football over the past 20 years, as time has passed, Dalglish has gone from winning three titles at Liverpool in the 1980s, to being sacked by Celtic after three months in 2000. As football changed, so did the Scot's ability to master it. As a spectator for the past decade, there is nothing to suggest that his managerial instincts have been sharpened in any way. Footballers, and football managers, by nature are practitioners, not academics. Everything they end up mastering in the game is achieved by doing, not studying.
How should we judge Dalglish? In a football sense, it's pretty simple. Hodgson, in his 20 league games in charge of Liverpool, earned an average of 1.25 points per game. On that basis, by the season's end, the club would have earned somewhere close to 48 points. That is Dalglish's marker. Earn more points, and he's proved that while not exactly prolific, he's still got the touch; earn less and every doubt about his instincts will be proven correct.
But if Dalglish's appointment is really all about appearance, about better body language and creating a more positive mood, FSG need to beware. Steve McClaren was pilloried for using an umbrella to shield himself from the rain during England's Euro 2008 qualifier defeat to Croatia. No doubt aware of this, Hodgson declined the use of one as the rain poured during Liverpool's League Cup defeat to Northampton. It didn't matter. The image of Hodgson looking like a saturated, helpless street bum looked just as bad the next day.
No matter how you try to look, results will always skew the picture.
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