Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: King Kenny may talk up Liverpool's revival, but one win doesn't spell greatness

If you thought Kenny Dalglish sounded somewhat bullish in the wake of that white-knuckled Carling Cup triumph over Cardiff City, if he may just have overestimated the strength of both his team's pulse and new ambition, you cannot be familiar with a scene of many years ago in a little office beneath the Anfield main stand occupied by his predecessor Bill Shankly.

By comparison, Dalglish was doing no more than taking a tentative peek through outstretched fingers at a future which, he said, may just be emboldened by the fact, rather than the style and conviction, of the club's first trophy in six years.

Shankly, who had seen the passing of great men like Ronnie Yeats and Ian St John, spoke of a new Liverpool rising from the ashes of the old. In his passion, he clambered up on to his desk, raised his arms and declared: "This new team is going to go off in the sky like a great bloody bomb."

So let's give today's Caesar his due after confronting doubts and turmoil on and off the field that were largely unknown to Shankly.

Unlike Anfield's first messiah, Dalglish didn't talk about the sure-fire certainties of a new dynasty, he said merely that something may just have stirred in the psyche and the spirit of a team which recently has been striving so desperately to create something of the aura of the past.

Yes, it is a stretch, because the hard truth is that if this was maybe a new start, and some invoking of an old dimension, it could hardly have been achieved more perilously against opposition operating, for all their fine effort and organisation, on a distinctly lower rung of class and evaluation.

Yes, in slightly more than a year bedevilled by the Suarez affair, Dalglish has scored two notable achievements. The first was to remind Liverpool – from the moment he came off his cruise ship to take control of the broken club he had served so brilliantly in the past as both a player and a manager – of who they once were and what they might just be again.

The second is the maybe psychologically potent one of opening up the trophy cupboard once more and, as he was at such pains to point out after the gut-wrenching hazards of extra time and the penalty shoot-out, sometimes a win is truly a win however it is achieved, however many flaws were revealed along the way. It may just provide that vital accumulation of belief, even optimism, which separates winners and losers.

However, it is still hard to believe, given his background and the standards he set himself so relentlessly as a player, that the public face Dalglish presented did not mask one pervasive doubt.

It is the one that says Liverpool, even after their brief, taut reinvention of Wembley as Anfield South, are still a disturbingly long way from launching an authentic challenge for a place among the elite of English football.

Despite signings amounting to more than £100m, the new Liverpool remain a team capable of the kind of resolution that knocked Manchester City and Manchester United out of the League and FA Cups but not, decidedly not, any invigorating sense of one growing into anything resembling significant rhythm and self-discovery.

Dalglish spoke of a new foothold in the future, but it was maybe telling that when the deadlock deepened at Wembley he was obliged to turn back to the past and send in Dirk Kuyt, the man who might have believed he was operating on the most tenuous of borrowed time with the injection of Andy Carroll at £35m and Suarez at £22m.

Stewart Downing dug up some old credentials against Cardiff but, at £20m, he has mostly been as anonymous as the £16m Jordan Henderson.

These are the realities that must cloud Dalglish's vision based, we have to say, on the defeat of Championship opposition which squandered their invitation to glory after Liverpool failed to take a grip on the game and then missed their first two penalties. No, they do not invalidate his belief that Liverpool, after the most dislocating years since the birth of the empire conjured by the old zealot roaring his conviction from a tabletop, might have found a new avenue of progress. But they do underline the extent of the work that has to be done with some urgency.

In 2001 Gérard Houllier had not one but three Cup triumphs all in a rush, and he was certainly not slow to speak of their habit-forming potential. Rafa Benitez won the supreme club title in Istanbul, followed it up with an FA Cup win and a reappearance in the Champions League, and that was a burst of extraordinary achievement that persuaded so many that the old firm was indeed back in business.

But of course it wasn't, because a great new team wasn't a fact but an illusion, one that died harder and longer than few others in the history of the game.

Now Liverpool are back in the terrain of hopeful speculation. It is, though, ground that cannot be fairly denied Dalglish.

Heaven knows, he has made some mistakes, the most serious of which he has apologised for with some grace, but he has also accepted a mighty task, that could only have been embraced by a man whose passion for the club became so integral to his meaning as a football man that it exceeded any fear of the huge pressure it would surely bring.

There has been no more embattled figure in all of the game these last few months, but now he believes he has been given a new edge, a new reason to sense that the battle may eventually be won. It may still be something of a long shot, but if he isn't entitled to believe it, who is?

Belfast Telegraph


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