Friday, 21 January 2011

Why the 'Dalglish effect' is bringing Liverpool FC together

Desperately seeking to occupy a sofa in each hour of the day as all good students should, I found myself watching LFC TV in the final hours of Wednesday night. A tempting trip to the fridge was narrowly defeated by the chance to watch Lucas’ 60 minute interview with Claire Rourke.

The interview was an interesting one. In a sport littered with foreign youngsters who prematurely believe that they have made it, Lucas’ attitude towards training and his personal development was refreshing. Whilst attempting to learn English, the Brazilian was forced to stop reading newspapers due to the criticism that his presence in the team received. Having seen a great deal of progression since those days, it was impossible not to feel happy for a timid youngster who has turned into a fiercely determined, yet impeccably polite man. Lucas’ performance in the interview was impressive and when next repeated, I suggest it is a must for all Liverpool fans.

However, one part of the show stands out above any other. When asked by Rourke - relaying a viewer’s email to her guest – which Liverpool player from the club’s esteemed past he would like to play alongside in the current team, Lucas took a moment to sink into deep thought. Suddenly a smile broke across his face and he uttered two words - Kenny Dalglish.

Lucas’s interview was recorded in 2010, before any suggestion of King Kenny’s return had built any serious momentum. Looking back, however, Lucas’ reaction explains the renewed optimism that is surrounding the club. Whilst opposition fans (and some pundits, if we should credit them with the term) are poking fun at Dalglish’s return and as yet, modest results, Liverpool fans have been taken in by the knowledge that their club is in safe hands once more. As a football fan, there is no better feeling than the knowledge that from board room to boot room, everybody is striving to achieve the same thing.

Whilst Dalglish’s results are not yet impeccable, it would have been foolish to expect an instant turnaround. Crucially, Dalglish has excelled in the areas that many critics will have missed. Although we are only approaching the fortnight marker in Dalglish’s new era, it is hard to deny that the football club has been united by the change of manager.

A glance at Twitter showed the regard in which Dalglish is held. Some foolishly suggested that the foreign players may not have heard of him but were swiftly put in their place. Ryan Babel referred to ‘the King’ whilst the excitement of the numerous young players on the networking site spoke volumes.

If the younger players on Liverpool’s books had felt distanced from the first team previously, they should appreciate the change of mentality under Dalglish. Earlier in the week, the manager spoke to everybody involved in the academy, from players to staff, to assure them that Liverpool was to be a cohesive unit from top to bottom. Although progression to the first team will require quality, the glass ceiling that has been strengthening over recent years has been shattered by Dalglish’s return.

Dalglish is not a man who goes back on his word. His encouragement for the academy has been reinforced by his appearance in the dugout at a youth team friendly in midweek and his personal touch. Every player at the academy can rest assured that the manager knows their name, qualities and will watch them first hand whenever possible. The first team remains the Holy Grail for every youngster but it looks set to become a more accessible target.

Suso and Conor Coady have been the first recipients of Dalglish’s personal touch. The policy of allowing promising youngsters to join the first team at Melwood for several days has been in force since Rafael Benitez’s days. The impromptu car sharing offer from the manager himself is something a little different. Both youngsters have been testing themselves against the club’s finest and are likely to travel with the squad to Wolverhampton on Saturday in order to sample the away day experience. Every player speaks warmly of their first day of training with the first team squad when they look back on their career and Dalglish has ensured that for these two talented players, their accounts will be no different.

With optimism throughout the club enhanced, another of the manager’s significant challenges has been to take care of the media. Without wanting to kick Roy Hodgson while he is down, the Liverpool press conference experience is a totally different one under Dalglish. Gone are the dry, apologetic and uninspiring sermons about the formidable task confronting the team in the next game. The press conference is a difficult theatre in which to perform but Dalglish has hit the nail on the head. He has been brutally honest at times but has stuck by his players. He has reiterated his desire to bring back that Liverpool aura to the club and has continually exhibited an ability to use his own brand of humour to deflect unwanted questions. What you see is what you get with Dalglish and it appears to be a recipe that the media are enjoying. He has got the balance between honesty and intrusiveness entirely correct and has the media eating from the palm of his hand. For Liverpool fans, press conferences are now something to look forward to rather than avoid in fear of embarrassment. This is how it should be.

The impact of Kenny Dalglish’s return on the support was always likely to be unifying. There have been no surprises with the positivity that has surrounded the three fixtures thus far. What is refreshing is the manner in which fans have reacted to transfer speculation. January is undeniably a difficult market to operate in and the fans understand that. When rumours spread of a deal with Luis Suarez (weeks before official contact was made), many were a little taken aback. “Us? Suarez? Really?” Liverpool fans have become accustomed to rumours being replaced by far less exciting fact. The realisation that despite current position, Liverpool are attempting to attract the top talent worldwide is immensely reassuring. Dalglish and Comolli are targeting the right players and even if some bids are unsuccessful, their positive intent will keep fans on their side.

For all the talking, planning and encouraging, Dalglish will ultimately be judged on the pitch. Although one point and a cup exit looks underwhelming, the style of football has done enough to convince the fans that progress is likely. The pass and move motto has been a feature of Liverpool Football Club for a long time but it is slowly being dusted off and shown the light of day once more. Accompanied by pressure on the ball high up the pitch, Dalglish’s basic theories are what fans want to see.

Whilst people suggest that Hodgson wasn’t given the necessary time to shape his ideas, they fail to realise that his ideas were not suited to the establishment that he managed. Hodgson was never going to be offered time to build an ideology that nobody wanted to buy into. Dalglish’s plan is aligned with the club’s traditions. Fans will always be willing to support a man striving to achieve their dreams rather than overrule a club’s history with his own brand of football.

Ultimately, Dalglish will be judged on results. However, his work behind the scenes is everything that fans could have asked for and a little bit more. Over the past few years, Liverpool Football Club has become increasingly unfamiliar to those who have grown up supporting it. From top to bottom, Dalglish is trying to unite the club in order to allow it to achieve. If he is allowed the time to do so, Dalglish can turn Liverpool into an organisation more closely resembling the one that he played for. The worst thing for a football fan is the feeling that they can’t identify with their own club. Until the end of the season at least, these fans can thrive in the knowledge that they have their club back.

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