Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

James Lawton: Comolli sacking can't hide Liverpool's failings

Damien Comolli has parted company with Liverpool

Listening to Liverpool chairman Tom Werner, you might just have believed the American ownership had got up the nerve for a bout of powerful leadership. If so, keep taking the gullibility pills. Others, though, might prefer an anti-nausea tablet or two.

There is not much of a brief here for either the fallen Damien Comolli or his office of director of football – Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger would get their marching boots on at the first hint of such an appointment at Manchester United or Arsenal – but that hardly stems a certain distaste over the timing and the style of the Frenchman's sacking.



It has been portrayed as a strong response to the disastrous drift of the club's self-proclaimed priority of a fourth place finish in the league, a failure that is hardly obscured by today's appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. Strong response, did we say? It is demonstrably a sop to those who have seen ever more clearly a rudderless ship – and one sickeningly impregnated with a touch of fear.



There is even a hint of deception in the idea that while Comolli goes to the wall, Dalglish, the hero of the Kop, the fabled King Kenny, is in receipt of an emphatic vote of confidence. The fear is that despite widespread dismay at Dalglish's stewardship, and his own insistence that he approved every one of the signings for which Comolli is, for the moment at least, bearing sole responsibility, a majority of fans would be in uproar if he too had been ordered down the plank.



This has left some revered figures from Liverpool's past surprised that Dalglish did not offer his resignation when the Comolli decision was handed down. If he approved the signings, an imperative for any manager truly in charge of the fate of his team, how can he be immune from the blame heaped on the man who had merely reported the availability of such as Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing?



These are questions which so far have not received the beginnings of an answer from the offices of the Fenway Sports Group, where, we are told, there is still much enthusiasm for the role of a director of football and the theory of moneyball, which of course we all now know is concerned with the potential for statistical analysis of players who might be bought low and sold big.



When Bill Shankly signed Kevin Keegan and Bob Paisley replaced the England star when he moved to Hamburg with Dalglish, they didn't call it moneyball. It was merely put down to an ability to recognise the quality of a player even if, in Keegan's case, he happened to be playing for Scunthorpe United.



The timing of the Comolli decision is so depressing because it was movement masquerading as action. Perhaps Comolli's performance was properly subject to review, perhaps even more than that of Dalglish, but it is still impossible to believe that the process was motivated by anything more than the desire to create a distraction.



The Kop will certainly not mourn the departure of a man it didn't know and whose role was never properly defined. Now we are told that such luminaries as Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal are being measured for the job, which Dalglish has told us is merely to submit to him a list of possible new signings – and perhaps begin to draw some benefit from the vast amounts of money spent on a club academy which Gérard Houllier and Rafa Benitez stocked with a multitude of young foreign talent, most of which is unlikely to see the light of action at Anfield.



This is nonsense. Whatever the qualities of Cruyff and Van Gaal, are they better equipped to understand the needs and the psychology of the club than generations of Liverpool players for whom league titles and European Cups were part of the routine of their football lives? If you are looking for perceptive football missionaries, the Netherlands, it is true, is no bad place to go, but since when was Merseyside a wasteland for youthful potential?



Perhaps it was when the Liverpool academy became, under the regimes of Houllier and Benitez, such a hard place to flourish for local kids seeking to walk in the steps of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.



Maybe what the Americans need to do more pressingly than learning the words of the favourite Anfield anthems and jumping in their skins at the possibility of Dalglish enjoying the kind of cultish support that came to Benitez so long after it was clear that he had exhausted the credit which came with the Champions League victory in 2005, is to spend a little time grasping truly the lost dynamic of a once great club. The biggest casualty is the ability seamlessly to develop a team, to recognise weaknesses and make the appropriate changes. Dalglish insists that what he and his team need most is a little time – and a little recognition of the progress victories in the Carling Cup and the FA Cup would represent. In the case of Comolli it is a defence which has already been heard and rejected. Dalglish, we are told officially, has the right to a longer hearing.



Maybe it is true, perhaps the owners are prepared to stall on their moneyball passion, and wait to see in what kind of shape Dalglish's Liverpool emerge from their cup adventures. On the other hand, they may merely be buying a little time while taking advantage of the diversion which they must pray stays alive at Wembley today. This, they may well reckon, offers at least a cover while they move to make some block-busting summer appointment.



Jose Mourinho does, after all, say that he hankers for England when his time at Real is done. Liverpool has the lure of American gold and a perfect stage for a man who believes he can do anything he chooses. He would certainly discount any need for a director of football.



Drama recalls fine stand by Everton's Dean of men



On the heels of the controversy in Germany over the timing of a Ukrainian film documentary dealing with the infamous "Game of Death", when Dynamo Kiev took on a team representing the Luftwaffe under the threat of possibly fatal consequences should they win, the great Everton striker Dixie Dean will next week come striding back down the high road of history.



His defiance of Nazi pressure came in Dresden when the touring Everton were advised that such party bigwigs as Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering would be in the crowd and would very much appreciate the Everton players throwing up the Hitler salute.



Dean, the Everton captain, told the emissary that it wouldn't happen and he later recalled: "While the band was playing one of our lads looked as if he was going to stick his arm up so I just grabbed hold of him and stopped him."



Who said football captains don't matter? The incident is part of The Dixie Dean Story, another work of Merseyside's leading football historian, John Keith. It goes on at the Southport Theatre next Thursday night (01704 500036).



FIA happy to listen to Yates of the Yard



There has to be one caution as Formula One appears certain to head to Bahrain on the dubious premise that it will for a day or two lighten the cares of so many of an embattled people seeking a few basic freedoms.



It is the identity of the security chief who this week assured FIA president Jean Todt that Lewis Hamilton and the boys will be safer in Bahrain than on the streets of London.



Former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates also told Todt that the small minority of protesters are not representative of the "delightful, law-abiding citizens that I see every day".



Yates, for the record, sent his observations by mail. It is not yet clear whether this was out of fear of any phone hacking he so recently declared did not exist, at least to any significant degree.

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