Chelsea v Liverpool: King eyes long reign
Chelsea v Liverpool: Barclays Premier League Sky Sports 1, today, 4pm
• Mersey paradise: Kenny Dalglish flanked by new boys Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, who were signed after the 50m sale of Fernando Torres. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
They had a new team photo taken at Liverpool before heading to London for today's intriguing reunion with Fernando Torres at Chelsea. The new 35 million striker Andy Carroll joined the beaming red ranks, as did 22.7m Luis Suarez, fresh from a debut goal against Stoke. And there, at the centre of the shot, proud as punch, was the caretaker manager.
Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool. It is a perfect fit, in a way Roy Hodgson and the Anfield club never was. Only the caretaker half of the job description jars. Caretaker managers don't usually pose for team pictures. Nor, more pertinently, are they normally allowed to sell the club's top scorer and splash out unprecedented sums on reinforcements.
"Well," reflected Dalglish when pressed on the new American owners permitting a supposed six-month, temporary appointee to overhaul Liverpool's attacking options so drastically, "they must have a certain amount of trust in somebody's judgment, mustn't they?"
That "somebody" is speaking yards from where, 20 years ago this month, he resigned as manager. On that occasion, Dalglish admitted the pressure, stemming from the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, was making his head explode. Now, a month before his 60th birthday, he cuts a relaxed figure. While he is far too shrewd to articulate the case for himself, it will be a major surprise if principal owner John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner do not make him "permanent" manager soon.
In the month since he succeeded Hodgson, the transfer window has replaced the relegation trapdoor as the chief topic of conversation. It was an astonishing 24 hours, with Torres defecting to Chelsea and a fat cheque plucking Carroll out of thin air to partner long-term target Suarez from Ajax.
Was Dalglish, like the fans, on a knife edge over the deals? "Not particularly, no," he replied, the tone suggesting he found the question melodramatic. The credit for the new arrivals should go to the owners "for their support" and to director of football strategy Damien Comolli for "acting so quickly" in dealing with Newcastle over Carroll, who is not fit enough to subject himself to comparisons with Torres at Stamford Bridge.
"We lost a player we were very disappointed to lose, but that's gone. You just brush yourself down and get on with your life. We've signed two fantastic young players (Carroll is 22, Suarez 24] that anyone who knows anything about football would have signed. The wee fella got off to a great start on Wednesday and I'm really excited about seeing them play together."
The instant revamp is oddly reminiscent of two episodes in Dalglish's career. In 1977, when Bob Paisley prised him from Celtic for a club-record 440,000, he succeeded the seemingly irreplaceable, Hamburg-bound Kevin Keegan. Ten years later, as player-manager, he responded to Ian Rush's move to Juventus by buying John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.
"Everybody's got to move on. If you didn't it would be totally disrespectful to the people that support this club. [Manchester] United sold Cristiano Ronaldo and they moved on. It's a fact of life, isn't? What do you do - sit and have a moan about things, or react positively?"
The size of the fees, especially Carroll's (after one England cap and 14 Premier League goals), has attracted what Dalglish regards as "negative" comment. Then again, there were eyebrows raised when he lavished 3.3m, also a British record, to bring Alan Shearer to Blackburn from Southampton in 1992. He declined to offer a hostage to fortune by comparing the two Geordies, saying: "Andy will stand up all on his own. He's a brave boy because he took on Alan's No.9 shirt at Newcastle and he has come here and taken on another iconic No.9 shirt. For one so young he must have a lot of guts and determination. The fans here can relate to him, and the fact that he's a bit innocent makes him even more endearing. So we're looking forward to getting him playing."
Suarez is already ahead in the endearing stakes, having darted through for his first goal soon after appearing as a substitute. Dalglish, ever the Glaswegian, described him as "a wee smiley guy" albeit one with a tougher side. "Luis is Uruguayan yet he went to Holland and learned Dutch, which they tell me is not an easy language. I find English difficult. For a foreigner to be captain of Ajax, there has to be something about the guy. These two have character in abundance, as big [Alan] Hansen would say."
Whether either has the scoring touch which made Torres a Kop idol remains to be seen. If Chelsea's 50m man plays today, it will be interesting to observe whether, in Dalglish's phrase, Liverpool's travelling support have "moved on". The Spaniard's shirt was burned outside the training ground on Monday. "The fans will behave the way they always have. They will support Liverpool Football Club. How they choose to do that is up to them. It's not for me to tell them how to behave."
Big signings, big games, big responsibilities: Dalglish is plainly relishing his return to active service. "If you've got three wins in a row, with three shut-outs, that is enjoyable," he said. What about the reduced opportunities to play golf? "Steady," he said, eyes twinkling and with an authority belying his caretaker status. "I'm in control of days off."
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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