James Lawton: Dalglish knows cup win not enough to paper over cracks at Liverpool
Published 26/03/2012 | 09:33
Having spent more than £100m on a Liverpool team which looks increasingly unfit for purpose, Kenny Dalglish is not exactly awash with options before he faces a critical re-assessment of his performance by American owner John W Henry.
Of the few he has, one should be seized upon without a moment's delay. It is, beyond a professional obligation to pass on basic information with some small degree of civility, a vow of omerta. Silence, certainly, would have been invested with a particularly golden hue during the Liverpool collapse against Wigan, which followed so quickly a statement from the manager which betrayed, utterly, the tradition of a club he enhanced so brilliantly, first as a player, then a manager in his first term.
Dalglish's always prickly demeanour has hardened markedly in the first months of a year disfigured by the Luis Suarez controversy and Premier League form which has left Liverpool bracketed with Queen's Park Rangers in 18th place, better only than disintegrating Wolves.
Even so, this was hardly adequate preparation for a pre-match slighting of his critics in which he seemed to separate himself from the meaning of all Liverpool's past success.
Dalglish said: "People should take an intelligence check. Judging our performance by league position alone is disrespectful. There's a bigger picture. In 30 years' time it will be remembered they won the Carling Cup – and maybe the FA Cup – in 2012. If that happens, the league position will be overlooked." Bigger picture? Unfortunately not. This is smoke and mirrors without licence. Indeed, the smoke might be coming from the rabbit hole housing Alice's Wonderland and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The league position of Liverpool, as Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley never tired of saying, is not some disposable guide to the team's progress but an unshakeable measurement of its intrinsic worth.
Even Dalglish's old team-mate and staunch friend Alan Hansen recently agreed that "Liverpool are not a cup team".
Of course they are not – the cup triumphs, including their English record-breaking haul in Europe, have always been seen as the inevitable outcrop of deep and relentlessly reseeded strength. No doubt the last success in the Champions League in Istanbul was something of an exception in that it happened, in the most extraordinary circumstances, seven years ago and without any significant impact on the domestic league front.
Now, bizarrely, Dalglish announces that a Carling Cup win – an extremely tentative one against Cardiff City – is some landmark of inexorable progress. As John McEnroe might observe, he cannot be serious.
The team they supplanted at Wembley was, of course, Championship-bound Birmingham City, who found in a random 90 minutes the will to wreck an Arsenal team which a few weeks earlier had been contending for all the game's major honours.
Liverpool have taken eight points from their last 11 games. Roy Hodgson, the man who was banished from Anfield with mocking laughter in his ears and was hired to save West Bromwich Albion's Premier League life, managed to glean more than that.
Mere statistics, you may say, but they do happen to be irrefutable in what they say about Liverpool's current plight.
They also happen to be rather dear to the heart of the American ownership and a key part of their appraisals of the progress of the baseball branch of the business prosecuted by the Boston Red Sox.
Having handed Dalglish and the club's director of football, Damien Comolli, the money to buy Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique, Sebastien Coates and Charlie Adam – and complete the pursuit of Suarez – the Fenway Sports Group is not likely to be either enamoured or feeling any need for an intelligence check when it applies some of the same criteria to the soccer division.
Indeed, the sharp edge of Fenway's analysis is likely to get especially acute when it measures the distance that still separates Liverpool from £30m worth of Champions League revenue.
After the Carling Cup triumph, Comolli suggested that there were still other boxes to tick, including at least fourth place in the league and success in the FA Cup. It seemed like a bad attack of hubris at the time and recent results have only confirmed the diagnosis.
Beyond the damaging statistics, of which the starkest is surely Liverpool's failure to win more than five of 15 home league matches, is Dalglish's willingness to question the foundation of all of Liverpool's past achievements.
It was defined simply enough by Shankly – and always endorsed by Paisley. Shankly said: "The league is a marathon not a sprint. It is where you find out if you are entitled to believe in how good you are."
If the contradicting of this historical truth does not bring on omerta, nothing will.