Friday 4 June 2010

Bye Bye Rafa (Welcome back King Kenny?)

We're on the verge of a World Cup and Liverpool part company with their manager.  Poor Rafa Benitez will no doubt blame the American owners for his exit and the lack of funds that they provided him with.  But frankly that's bollocks.  We've spent a lot.  Millions and millions of pounds on players that fell well short of the standard required at Anfield.

People hark back to the 2005 Champions League Final, but the only Benitez signed player that played a significant part in the game was Alonso.  Yes it was glorious and whatever he said at half time made a difference, but it was Hamman coming on that changed it for 6 minutes.  That 6 minute spell shell shocked AC Milan but essentially it was the team that Houllier built that won it.  The FA Cup Final the following year was about one player dragging us back to life with surely the greatest ever goal in a Final.  Again glorious, but a side playing well within itself due to one man's insistence on a certain, conservative way of playing.

At times under Benitez it felt like he didn't trust his players to cut lose and just play.  That everything was over thought and rarely expressive.  We were at our best under him at home in Europe when the crowd carried the team forward in a relentless wall of noise but that style of play was never seen away from home.  His best result as a manager was at Old Trafford as we chased United for the title a little over a year ago.  But United's performance was error strewn that day and Nando pounced on that, unsettled them, turning a tight game into a land slide.

When Alonso left last summer any thoughts of pushing for the league again faded.  It was like a light went out at the club, a small spark of belief maybe.  We didn't sign Barry and brought in Aqualani, who just looks like a light weight Gerrard to me, plenty of skill on the ball but not built for the Premier League.  We sold a right back (Arbeloa) and brought another in for £17 million.  Did that really make sense when what we clearly needed was some flare on the wings?

Benitez is clearly a stubborn man.  He made some bizarre decision at times, often getting support from fans because they paid off.  Gerrard removed after winning a penalty at Everton in a game we went on to win.  But that shouldn't blind the fans, as often as he got things right he got them wrong.  Look at the Robbie Keane debacle.  How on earth did the powers that be at the club let something like that happen?  Well that sums up the problems at Liverpool for me.

There was just no one above him after Rick Parry (former Chief Executive) was forced out, by Benitez incidentally, who knew football.  The Americans didn't have a clue, still don't.  No one to to pull him up and say, what exactly are we achieving by selling a player like Keane back to Spurs after six months?  How does that help us Rafa?  We're going for the title, still in the Champions League, does it make more sense to keep him?

So where now?

People who aren't fans of the club won't understand the calls from those of us that hold the club dear to get Dalglish to hold the reigns for a year.  I get that it won't make sense to them.  Of course it won't.  He's not managed a club since Newcastle when he was sacked by the ever endearing Freddie Shepherd.   11 years out of the game at the sharp end and lord knows it's changed so much.

Some will say it's about lineage.  That Dalglish is part of that boot room mythology, a direct descendent of Shankly.

When Dalglish left part of the club went with him.  He embodied what Liverpool were about.  Good football, class off the pitch, second to no one.  He left after the nightmare of Hillsborough increased the pressure on him as a man so much that he just couldn't deal with the weight of expectation.  There was so much dignity about the club in the wake of that tragedy and Kenny Dalglish was at the heart of that.  As a short term answer to a long term issue he could be the perfect answer to settling the boat and appeasing the fans who have lost faith with the way the club has been acting for the last few years.  He'd command immediate respect and when you look at the side he built at Anfield, it was, in my opinion the most free flowing football the club has ever produced built on a bed rock of a solid defence.

People say never go back.  But Liverpool have never really left Dalglish and we never really let him go from our hearts.  Yes it's heart over head.  But as a club that's what we've always been about.  The weight of expectation would be low, next season, depending on who goes and who stays, could be all about just surviving.  If you want someone who understands what Liverpool are to lead us through that then there's no one better.  People outside of the club don't get it.  Won't get it.  But he's helped to heal us twice before in far more trying circumstances and that's why we're calling for him again, because even if it's for a brief time, we need someone that understands the club on that level.  Someone who, like us, can't really explain the Liverpool thing in words, but just gets it.

Of course he may not be needed.  Liverpool could bring in someone in the summer.  But it's such a huge decision that giving the club time to get it right must be the right answer.  I'd take a year of Dalglish, a year of transition as the American's sell up, to give the club room to breath.  I don't want a gamble.  I want the best manager the club can get to bring us back to life, personally for the long term I'd bring in Hiddink or O'Neil.  Talk of Hodgson doesn't feel right to me, not that I can put my finger on why (maybe a lack of passion), but he's clearly in the running.

O'Neil would top my list because he's already managed the only other British side that has the same kind of feel about it in Celtic.  Don't ask me to explain that, there are just some clubs that have something that others don't.  Liverpool, Celtic, Barca, Ajax and Benfica to name five.  All have huge rivals, some have been surpassed by them, but all have something indescribable about them that make them revered.  O'Neil would be able to tap into that because he already gets it.  His sides play good football and the man has the one thing that Liverpool fans hold dear.  Passion.  He kicks every ball on the touchline.  We'd love him for that.  People think that football is all about winning things and of course that's a huge part of it.  But Liverpool's fall from the top in the 1990s never dimmed my love for them, never changed how I felt about the club I love.  We still operated in the right way, with a quiet class.  We need that back.

I could bang on about the Liverpool thing for pages and pages.  Things are bad right now.  Things could in all honesty get worse, clubs as big as ours with just as much heritage, have slid further than us.  There's a huge decision to be made at Anfield in the coming months and there's no one at the club in a position to make it.  Buy the club some time Kenny and come back for a year.  Feel the Kop willing you to make it work.  Feel that noise reverberating through you and give us one season of your wit and wisdom.  If nothing else, we've all missed you pissing off Sir Alex.


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