HIS club are paralysed by uncertainty in the boardroom, his team have made a poor start to the season and his country's national side have come within a whisker of plunging headlong into another crisis, but Kenny Dalglish is doing his best to look on the bright side. Maybe it's the ambassadorial role with Liverpool that has filled his glass half-full. Or maybe it's the book he has written about his career-long love affair with all things Anfield.
• Play days: Dalglish playing for Scotland
As a flick through the pages of My Liverpool Home confirms, there has been much more for their former manager and player to worry about down the years than the vagaries of competition. In a frank and often moving account of his relationship with the Merseyside club, he details, amongst other things, the emotional toll of the Hillsborough disaster, the stress that led to his resignation as manager in 1991 and his wife's battle with breast cancer.
In the trophy room at Anfield, where he is knee deep in copies of the newly-published tome, there is scarcely a subject that Dalglish is not positive about. Liverpool's recent troubles are a "transitional period". Criticism of their Spanish striker, Fernando Torres, is "in a roundabout way a compliment". And Scotland's eccentric start to their European Championship qualifying campaign is no cause for alarm.
This will come as a surprise to those of us north of the Border who underwent something approaching heart failure earlier this month. Scotland, remember, needed a last-gasp winner against the mighty Liechtenstein to secure their first win in Group I. "Does it matter?" he asks. "We're sitting there with four points. There's no story. It just says four points. It doesn't say we scored in 97 minutes. It's a win. Let's just be grateful for any little piece of luck we get because we don't get much."
Not like we used to anyway. How lucky were Scotland to have in their midst a player like Dalglish, who gathered 102 caps and 30 goals, the last of which was that famous strike against Spain in 1984? Only after the same opponents have visited Glasgow next month will Dalglish deem it fair to pass judgment on the current side. "The next two games are the big ones aren't they? The Czech Republic, who will be disappointed to have lost at home, and the world champions coming to Hampden. These two games are very important. But so far, it's been good. Four points out of six is a good start."
Making the same claim for his beloved Liverpool isn't quite so easy.Certainly, the book about his passion for a club he joined from Celtic in 1977 has not been launched at the most buoyant point in their history. While their Europa League campaign is ticking over nicely, they have triumphed in only one of their four league matches, and scored just twice in the process. With their new manager, Roy Hodgson, still struggling to settle in, and no more news on the takeover fans are waiting for, the championship they came so close to securing the season before last looks further away than ever. Dalglish was in charge when they last won the title, over 20 years ago.
"Every football club has gone through some transitional periods in their history," says Dalglish. "Unfortunately for us at the moment, this is ours. It's how you come through it that's the most important thing. And I'm sure that we'll come through it, with Roy there, as a better and more powerful club than we have been. Whether it means we are going to win the league or not, I don't know. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, they are all very, very strong clubs with Chelsea probably the best of them."
United, who replaced Liverpool as the dominant force in English football, will be their opponents at Old Trafford this afternoon. Although the shift in power has contributed to a fierce rivalry between the clubs, Dalglish does not subscribe to it. In his book, he says a strip worn by Denis Law in Bobby Charlton's testimonial is among the possessions he is most proud of. Also apparent is an enduring respect for Sir Alex Ferguson, whose decision to send a group of United supporters to Anfield in the wake of Hillsborough was "an exceptional gesture".
There are shades of Sir Alex in a story Dalglish tells about the former Liverpool manager, Bob Paisley, an early proponent of the now-ubiquitous mind games. Before the first leg of their European Cup tie against Aberdeen in 1980, Paisley headed for the pre-match press conference, promising to "give Gordon Strachan a wee bit of toffee", by which he meant that he would shower the player in so much praise that complacency followed. "The Boss was a master at dishing out toffee," says Dalglish, who later won three titles and two FA Cups as manager of the club. Dalglish, it seems, has yearned to be back in charge ever since he quit. Two months after the 4-4 draw with Everton that led to his resignation, the appointment of Graeme Souness prompted in him a "twinge of regret". In 1994, a few months before he guided Blackburn Rovers to the title, he refused the offer of a new contract in the hope that Liverpool would take him back. They were interested, but when it came to nothing, he was "furious". Only this summer, when Rafael Benitez left, his offer to fill the post was turned down.
Dalglish, who returned to Liverpool as Academy Ambassador last year, says in his book that they must model themselves on Manchester United if they are to enjoy a sustained period of success.They need to develop young, local players just as Sir Alex did in the early days. "Fergie needed a few years before he was properly up and running but the foundations he put down were deep and gave United a great platform." Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are Liverpool's answer to Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, but they don't have the medals to show for it. Dalglish believes that there is still time for them to win that elusive title. "We won it at Blackburn. And with all due respect, if Blackburn can win it, then I'm sure Steve and Carra can win it. We got close two years ago. If we can get as close as that again, and take a little step forward, there's no reason why not. It would be fantastic for everybody, but for the two local boys, it would be a dream."
As Liverpool's summer signing, Joe Cole, said only the other day, if anyone deserves a championship medal, it is Gerrard. Not only has it been denied him at Anfield, his loyalty has cost him one elsewhere. "It tells you how much the club means to him," says Dalglish. "That's maybe what makes him a wee bit special. Different people have different motivations don't they? Some people want to chase the cash. Some people want to chase the honours. Some people want an opportunity where the cash might not be as great and the honours might not be as regular, but (they say] 'I'm really happy living where I am. I'm really happy with the football club. My family's here and I'm settled'. What do you want out of life?"
Less than six months shy of his 60th birthday, Dalglish might ask himself the same question. Ribbed in his days as Celtic manager for answering "mibbes aye, mibbes naw" to the simplest of questions, it is worth asking Dalglish if he would ever contemplate returning to management with another club. Even in the trophy room at Anfield, surrounded by books about his devotion to the club, he refuses to rule it out. "I honestly don't know.I couldn't categorically say yes, same as I couldn't say no." Jonathan Watson, it seems, has some updating to do.
• My Liverpool Home by Kenny Dalglish (Hodder & Stoughton), 19.99.