Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Down Memory Lane: Kenny Dalglish won’t fear his biggest battle

Is Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish Liverpool’s Messiah? Already some pundits have expressed doubts, but fans, even after the FA Cup elimination by Manchester United, believe he can lead them to the Promised Land.

The 59-year-old Scot, renowned for his short, clipped answers, has dismissed claims that he is yesterday’s man, too long out of the game, not up to date with modern tactics — in other words, an old man.

“Pressure? What pressure?” he says. “I’ll deal with it the way everyone else handles it. You do the job to the best of your ability and what happens happens.”

Dalglish is a remarkable character, idolised by Celtic, Liverpool and Scotland fans, who believe he can walk on water, despite 20 years ago quitting as Anfield manager in stress-related circumstances.

Our paths have crossed many times, particularly during those ten international appearances against Northern Ireland, in Celtic’s European games and as a guest with our legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings at various football functions.

Dalglish played a major role in four Scottish League and four Scottish Cup triumphs under his mentor Jock Stein, master of man management.

Indeed, it was the big man who was instrumental in transferring him for £440,000 to Liverpool as successor to the Hamburg-bound Kevin Keegan.

Instantly, he became the pin-up of the Kop, whose power hastened Roy Hodgson’s departure and the same power may well keep him at Anfield on a permanent basis.

The American owners have bowed to their supporters. Now Kenny must deliver. Strange are the ways of football — as a 15-year-old he was given a trial by Liverpool but, homesick, he returned to Glasgow.

The laconic, self-effacing Dalglish is a man of few words — his droll delivery ideal material for the Scottish comedians in those hilarious football sketches.

Hugh McIlvanney once said that Kenny reacts to interviewers as if they are trying to mug him and the day “he became a gusher of controversial quotes, stones will be queuing to give blood transfusions!”

As he sat grim-faced through the agony of Manchester United’s early penalty, and Steven Gerrard’s sending-off, my mind flashed to those many games in which I revelled at his partnership with Graeme Souness, two with rare talent and whose understanding was telepathic.

There was that night in the 1978 European Cup Final at Wembley when he scored the solitary goal.

Souness unhinged the defence, Dalglish pounced and as, amazingly, many of the players stood motionless. Nonchalantly Dalglish lobbed it past the keeper, Birger Jensen, who until then had defied Liverpool’s unrelenting assault.

It was the late Bob Paisley, who wanted Dalglish at Anfield. He honed him into a Liverpool legend.

The Hillsborough Disaster hit Dalglish hard and he attended many funerals. With his wife Marina he helped counsel relatives of the victims and the scenes still haunt him.

Some English scribes find it difficult understanding Dalglish’s Glasgow diction. So, too, did Edinburgh-born Souness, who once suggested to Kenny’s column ghost-writer that he should employ an interpreter!

There is a huge challenge ahead for Dalglish, who is imbued with a deep passion and who possesses a fantastic knowledge of players in British and European football.

He has to unify the set-up, galvanise players, particularly star striker Fernando Torres, find better players for the future and reclaim the glory of yesteryear.

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