YOU wonder why Andy Carroll bothered. The other day the Liverpool striker said that, if he was to score against his old club Newcastle in their Premiership contest tomorrow, he wouldn’t celebrate it out of respect for the fans who used to cheer his name.
In the interests of clarity we should point out that he was referring to Newcastle fans as opposed to Liverpool fans, who also stopped cheering his name some time ago.
Coming from a man who has scored one league goal since October his comments were a little on the redundant side. There can’t be many Liverpool fans who expect Carroll to score. There can’t be many Liverpool fans who expect Liverpool to win, either. This is the way of it for the Anfield side these days. They are in this kind of footballing purgatory, not knowing whether they are coming or going as a force.
Any analysis of Kenny Dalglish’s reign has to factor in the club’s recent victory in the Carling Cup and their march to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. They have silverware. And they might get more. Along the way in these competitions they have removed some stellar opposition. Chelsea were beaten at the Bridge, Manchester City were beaten in their own backyard, Manchester United were removed at Anfield. But, even still, there is a dissatisfaction about it all when set alongside their travails in the league. It was best summarised by Alan Hansen who acknowledged the Carling Cup win but then screwed up his face in horror at the notion that Liverpool were now reduced to the ranks of a “Cup side”.
They haven’t won a league in 22 years, so a “Cup side” is exactly what they are whether Hansen wants to accept it or not.
Last season they finished 22 points behind the champions. The season before it was 23 points. Before the weekend’s games they stood 31 points behind Manchester United at the top. Dalglish was supposed to change all that, of course. JW Henry, the club’s new owner, has given him the financial wherewithal to launch a sustained challenge, for the Champions League, if not for the title. On that front, Dalglish has been a real disappointment.
Dalglish himself still has the faith, but have you seen him on television lately? He looks a year older every time he does an interview. A year older and altogether more truculent. He takes questions about Liverpool’s dodgy form in the Premiership as if they are a personal attack rather than a legitimate query. Before this weekend’s round of fixtures, his team lay seventh in the league, eight points behind Newcastle and 13 points outside of a Champions League spot.
But their real place in the scheme of things can’t be judged by looking up the table but rather by looking down.
At the start of play yesterday, Liverpool were only two points ahead of Sunderland and Everton and only three points clear of Swansea and Norwich.
Dalglish has spent well over £100 million since he returned to Anfield and his team have won only five out of 15 league games at home and only six away from home, also from 15. Of his lavish purchases only Luis Suarez and Jose Enrique could be deemed successes.
If the phone-in shows on Radio 5 Live are anything to go by, Liverpool fans are fast losing confidence in Dalglish.
It pains them to admit it, of course. The man is, and always will be, a legend at Anfield, but they’re asking questions now.
Some of them are thinking it might be a good idea if he was to step gracefully aside in the summer. Nobody wants to see him sacked.
When they lost at home to Wigan last Saturday – following their wretched capitulation at QPR earlier that week – one of his fans almost wept as he catalogued Dalglish’s shortcomings, not least his activity in the transfer market. Carroll, pictured, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson were also considered monumentally expensive failures and there was a cutting put-down of Charlie Adam’s worth. “He’s a Championship player!” Very harsh, but it’s fair to say that Adam hasn’t done himself many favours lately.
Those with an unshakeable belief in Dalglish will argue that his is a new team that needs time, a team that has had to contend with life without their leader, Steven Gerrard, for chunks of the season, a team that will eventually come good.
Sure, there were those back-to-back losses against Wigan and QPR and the earlier league defeat to Bolton and the draws with Norwich and Swansea, Wigan and Blackburn but inconsistency, the faithful will say, is all part of a rebuilding process.
But at what point does their faith become a blind loyalty?
Looking at Liverpool’s position in the table, devoid of Champions League hope, you might think that the only thing they have left to play for this season is the FA Cup. Not true. As well as a second cup to win, they have their manager’s reputation to bolster. It could be argued that Dalglish needs an excellent finale to the Premiership season every bit as much, if not more, than he needs another trophy at Wembley.
He needs to calm the doubters who are looking at his team and wondering if the King still has it anymore.
Liverpool have eight games left and 24 points available to them. In order to beat last year’s points total they are going to have to win six of those remaining eight games. In order to better their tally from 2009-10 they’re going to have win all eight.
Even winning eight out of eight wouldn’t top their totals from the four seasons before that. In fact, give Dalglish 24 points from his remaining 24 and he’s still 20 points shy of the number Liverpool posted in 2009.
These are difficult days for Dalglish. All you have to do is look at his face to realise it.