This is getting to be a habit. Kenny Dalglish shows up at an unassuming location and, for about 20 minutes, spreads positive vibes about Scottish football.
Yesterday it was in the back of a Glasgow shop underneath racks of what you might call state-of-the-art semmits when the Scotland legend declared his delight at seeing Darren Fletcher back playing again.
Fletcher has overcome a career-threatening bowel condition to return to the Manchester United midfield. That’s a team, and specifically a department, which urgently needs his combative and relentless qualities but this is good news for Scotland as well. “Having Darren back is very important,” said Dalglish. “He’s one of the players who the team will look up to, look to for encouragement. Not having one of your better players – or indeed your best player – available for a couple of years has been a big blow for Scotland, because we don’t have many guys of Darren’s quality. He’s just a fantastic footballer. I don’t know him personally but I see him being interviewed, how he conducts himself, and I think he’s an impressive boy, mature and very humble too.”
Last week Dalglish was at a Glasgow primary school to enthuse about Gordon Strachan and the Tartan Army, while hoping for a favourable qualifying group for the 2016 European Championships. Yesterday he was promoting sportswear with “moisture-wicking” abilities. These didn’t seem necessary as we watched from the store window while the city centre was briefly enveloped in snow and Dalglish laughed as he recalled the basic nature of the training kit in his Celtic days in the 1970s – and the daily scramble for the least grubby and threadbare gear. You can’t imagine a player of his cunning losing out too often.
The search for new and genuine Scottish footballing talent – of the type that could help us grace the Euros again, or better still a World Cup – can seem as mildly desperate as Dalglish’s quest for a fresh strip, but not to the man himself. “Think about Robert Snodgrass,” he said. “Where was he five years ago? Livingston! Last year Wigan had James McCarthy and James McArthur and both had come from Hamilton Accies.” Even though McCarthy has chosen to play his international football for the Republic of Ireland, Dalglish was making a general point about the often-derided standard of the Scottish leagues, adding that Snodgrass’s Norwich City team-mate Wes Hoolahan, although not Scottish, has Livingston on his CV as well. “So, by the way,” said Dalglish in that quietly persuasive way of his, “if you have a look in Scotland, you’ll find a few players there somewhere.”
King Kenny played in three World Cups and it might have been four if he hadn’t been injured before Mexico ’86. Was he hurt by our non-appearance at the last three finals, with Brazil this summer making it four? “It’s just realism, isn’t it? If you’re not good enough you can’t get there. Five World Cups was an unbelievable effort. Maybe we should have been more grateful for that, although I think it was appreciated when we stopped qualifying.”
Dalglish was quizzed some more on the current standard. Did he know about Ryan Gauld and the other Dundee United kids winning such rave reviews this season? Yes, but he had yet to see them in action. Gauld, it was suggested, had “magic in his boots”. Dalglish: “Hope he disnae disappear then, eh?”
Bill Shankly reckoned that every English side who wanted to compete for the main prizes needed three good Scottish boys in it, though he couldn’t resist adding: “Any more than three and you’ll have trouble!” Dalglish, of course, was part of a great Liverpool triumvirate. So does he think England’s top four will ever come calling for Scots again?
Once more his response was upbeat. “I would think they’ll be well aware of who’s doing well. They’ll have people up here looking at matches. I’m sure the recruitment teams at most of the Premier League clubs will be having a good look. They can’t afford to miss anybody, can they?”
Dalglish’s old team currently occupy a top-four berth and he’s been thrilled by Liverpool’s charge. “Everyone around Anfield on matchdays has a smile on their face in anticipation. What the supporters are seeing on the pitch is heartwarming, such as last Saturday when they demolished Arsenal 5-1.”
Brendan Rodgers’ side had had their share of injuries but didn’t make a drama about them and had “just got on with it”. The whole team were playing well, but inevitably Dalglish was asked about Luis Suarez. “He’s a fantastic player and he’s been brilliant this season. Even when he didn’t score at the weekend he was terrific.”
Can they win the league, hold their nerve? “It’ll come down to a lot of things but the most important of them is to get in position. Once you’re there I don’t see how you can be apprehensive.”
That’s fine for him to say that, but, then, he is Kenny Dalglish.
l Kenny Dalglish was speaking at the opening of the new Under Armour department at Greaves Sports, 23 Gordon Street, Glasgow. www.greavessports.com