King Kenny Leaves the Castle

In Sport on May 17, 2012 at 6:26 PM

So, King Kenny has been forced from the castle. Instead of taking a no doubt much needed holiday, he flew to America to review his contract with owners John Henry and Tom Werner, and was given his marching orders from the insular bubble of the castle, over the crocodile-infested moat of hacks, and into the land of managerial uncertainty.

The case for the prosecution against this once great player is contentious. On the one hand, he has brought Liverpool a Carling Cup, seemingly instilling the resolve to see them past a strong City team in the semis and beat a very spirited Cardiff team – on penalties, after a gruelling 120 minutes – in the final. This is one more serious title than Barcelona and Manchester United have got this season. He also got them to an FA Cup final, only losing narrowly to a good Chelsea team. And, despite all the controversy and the myriad stars (or supposed stars) who have had to content themselves with bench-warming for much of the season, it appears he’s created a positive team atmosphere around Anfield. No mean feat, especially when compared to the problems City, a similar if more successful case, have had in this respect. Even erstwhile renegade vagabond, Roy Carroll, seems to be acting like a sensible, if largely shit, professional nowadays.

No doubt he was helped in this by the aura of hero-worship which surrounds him on the red side of Liverpool – a respect seemingly echoed by the players, and one which lent him the benefit of the doubt on many contentious cases. For this you could call him ‘lucky’, but one’s stature is not divorced from the job, so this should be a point in his favour.

But – and it’s a big but – in finishing 8th Liverpool have simply failed to perform in the league, especially when considered, with the ‘messiah’ Kenny and several big signings on board, many fans were hailing this as the season as the one in which Liverpool finally fulfilled on their promise and returned to former glories. And it wasn’t even a particularly close 8th – closer to the drop zone than (normal) Champions League Qualification (16 and 17 points, respectively), and a galling four points off those pesky neighbours on the other side of Stanley Park. Undoubtedly they were unlucky in some games in which they dominated but thwarted by some combination of poor finishing, refereeing decisions, out-of-the-ordinary goalkeeping (Scott Dann), and the woodwork – which, with 22 strikes, they hit comfortably more than anyone else in the Premiership. However, that is only so if you agree all this so-near-yet-so-far constitutes ‘unlucky’ (I do to some extent). In many performances they were just plain poor; disorganised, anaemic, and seemingly clueless. A tell-tale sign is that the now-infamous Anfield Cat, which appeared in their drab 0-0 home with Spurs, spawned so many ironic jokes about the tabby doing more at Anfield than many players, particularly Downing, had done all season.

Yes, a lot of the culpability for this should lie with the players – a crux I feel most sacked managers are unfairly burdened with. However new the system or unfamiliar the players, surely a ‘good’ left winger should be able to beat the man and put in a decent cross… *cough* Downing *cough* (ok, so I’m singling poor Stewart out, but I’m angry about his selection for the England squad). In this case, though, a lot of the blame should fall on Dalglish’s shoulders. Newcastle, for one, will be laughing at Liverpool’s (figurative) fortunes right now. Flushed £41m from the sale of Carroll (£35m) and Jose Enrique (£6m) to Liverpool, they have bought – among others – Check Tiote, Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse and signed on a free Demba Ba. All unmitigated successes, and they still turned a £8m profit. Bravo, Pardew. By contrast, on top of the £35m for Carroll (though admittedly buoyed by an equally ridiculous £50m for Torres), Kenny spent more than Newcastle on Henderson and Downing alone (£16m and £20m, respectively). In the league, the former clocking in with a disappointing 2 goals and 4 assists and the latter a pathetic zilch. It’s very easy to point the finger at bad signings in hindsight, but even at the time the consensus – and my opinion – was that Liverpool were paying way over the odds for these two. Even Adam and Coates – at £7m each – seemed overpriced, in hindsight at least. Also, his selection has often seemed misguided. Despite lacklustre performances, Henderson and Downing have both found regularly found themselves in attacking midfield positions ahead of Maxi Rodriguez, who has scored four goals in just 11 league appearances.

Also, Dalglish’s handling of the whole Suarez-Evra affair was very divisive; unbridled in his support for the player vehemently accused – and later convicted of – racism. His indignant reaction to ban, too – acting as if it was an unfair attack on him/his club – won him few admirers. It’s certainly true that being honourable and nice to the press (and fans) is not a pre-requisite for the job – it certainly never hurt Fergie or Mourinho – but for a club that prides itself so much on its ethics (or being self-righteous and worthy), it was quite damaging. And arguably quite an unhelpful distraction from the football itself too.

So, I think the prosecution wins on the balance of probabilities, at least in today’s cutthroat, Darwinnian hell-hole that is the Premiership managerial merry-go-round. It may seem harsh and rash, but so did Chris Hughton’s sacking, remember?! And look what Pardew’s done. Another thing to be said for the decision is the timing; a new manager, if appointed quickly, will have plenty of time over the summer to rebuild and mould his squad. And a prestigious, if ‘pressure-cooker’, job like Liverpool should have no shortage of attractive potential suitors – already Martinez, even Benitez and Capello have been thrown into the ring. If messrs Henry and Warner appoint one of these and he takes Liverpool onto success, it will prove a good decision…in hindsight as well as at the moment.

Joel Durston

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