They call him the King in the Kop, and it would seem fitting at times this season, though rarely for the right reasons. As outdated as his title, Liverpool’s manager demonstrated his shortcomings once more for all to see, except those that follow him blindly into another season of mid-table obscurity, as he inspired his side all the way to a rather dispirited and shambolic display against Martin O’Neil’s Sunderland, resulting in a 1-0 loss. The King is losing his power to deliver, and whilst last month's Carling Cup triumph offered a brief respite, a little taste of what it feels like to take out a piece of silverware once more, it will be long forgotten in the analysis and fall out of another poor season for a club of Liverpool’s standing and resources.
Last week’s loss to Sunderland leaves Liverpool a massive 10 points off Champions League qualification, and five behind Newcastle, meaning that Liverpool could be set to miss out on European football altogether for the second year in a row, and one must wonder when the excuses are going to run out for Liverpool’s legendary icon. More than 12 months into the job, this is very much a squad that Kenny Dalglish can call his own. While last season, he might have got away with suggesting that he hadn’t completely stamped his own mark on a squad he inherited from Roy Hodgson, he certainly couldn’t say the same this year with additions of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Craig Bellamy, Charlie Adam, Sebastian Coates and of course Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez last season.
It’s funny to think then that Dalglish still gets the benefit of the doubt, where his predecessor got none. Roy Hodgson inherited a poor, broken Liverpool squad in times of financial uncertainty and a turbulent period for the club which eventually saw a change in ownership, but he was never offered the same chance to build a side as Dalglish has. Whilst Hodgson has gone onto show the improvement he can bring to the club over a longer period of time with West Brom, Kenny Dalglish has brought very little, if any, improvement from the Liverpool side he took over back in January last year in terms of league performance.
It is a dangerous game when sentimentality begins to dictate a club’s direction, and it can be very legitimately argued that such blind devotion to Kenny Dalglish is doing the club more harm than good. In the transfer market, it would be hard to suggest that Dalglish has done little else than waste vast sums of money on overrated talent. Steward Downing still, somewhat amazingly, has not racked up a single goal or assist in the Premier League this season, Charlie Adam blows hot and cold, Jordan Henderson is largely anonymous in the Liverpool midfield whilst Andy Carroll remains hopeless in front of goal. Even Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez, probably his best purchases in the transfer market, are woefully inconsistent; with the latter seeming more trouble than he is worth at times.
On the field, Liverpool have seemed a disorganized unit, and it would seem at times that not even Dalglish is entirely sure what his best side is. There is no doubting that when it comes to the crunch games, Liverpool remain a force that on their day can match anyone in terms of desire, grit and quality, but it says a lot for their tactical approach, or lack thereof, that they are constantly undone by clubs in games that seem to carry less emotional importance to the players and perhaps the manager. In the Premier League, Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn, Stoke and all of the top four; Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and most recently Arsenal, have all gone to Anfield and taken points away, most of whom have managed as much by frustrating Liverpool, simply by being organized and compact, speaking volumes of Dalglish’s tactical ineptitude.
After the Carling Cup triumph, some pundits and ex-players, such as ex-Liverpool striker Howard Gayle, have stated that Dalglish has Liverpool back to playing, “the Liverpool way”. Frankly, even for the most devout Liverpool supporters, that would seem a statement quite hard to agree with. Bringing back some silverware to the long suffering Anfield trophy-cabinet is a fantastic achievement, and one Liverpool, Dalglish and his players would do well to celebrate for so many reasons, but the most ominous of those is this:
If King Kenny is allowed to continue to get away with delivering mediocrity, it could be the last piece of silverware they celebrate in some time.