Liverpool FC: 10 Key Areas Which Kenny Dalglish Must Address Next Season
So hapless have Liverpool been that they found themselves being taunted at home by the Villa fans. "We're winning away," the travelling supporters chorused. "How crap must you be, we're winning away."
The recent poor run of form has increased the pressure on manager Kenny Dalglish, with calls for his resignation coming from even among the Kop faithful.
The Reds' American owners are unlikely to sack him, however, and he is not expected to heed the calls for his resignation.
That being the case, look for Dalglish to not only finish the season at the helm at Anfield, but also to be given at least one more season to turn things around.
There is merit in offering him more time to restore the franchise to its former glory, but in order to achieve that restoration, changes must be made.
Here then are 10 areas which Dalglish must address next season if Liverpool are to be successful in their goals.
10. Media Relations
The modern football manager has to be savvy with not only managing his players, but managing relationships with the press as well. It is all well and good to present an "us against the world" attitude to your players behind closed doors, but such bunkered thinking is a public relations death pill when aired publicly in this modern age of media saturation.
Clubs with the international prestige and aspirations, like Liverpool, are a reality removed from the quaint footballing teams their fans imagine them to be. They are conglomerates in the making, and these brands need careful nurturing.
As much as this may rub some Liverpool fans and arguably the game's "purists" the wrong way, there is no denying this simple truth.
Broadcast deals with the likes of Sky Sports and ESPN may help make the clubs competitive within the league, but to be consistently at the top of the domestic table, clubs must go the extra mile to attract and retain the best players.
This is certainly true of success in European competition, when the market for the best players isn't limited to other domestic clubs, but European rivals as well.
This is what forces clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United to embark on arduous preseason tours in North America and Asia, so as to increase their global footprint and promote the club's brand to new audiences.
Heading off the protests of the diehard fans, one should care because the extra financial strength gained from these global marketing strategies is what will restore Liverpool to domestic and European prominence.
Kenny Dalglish must recognize his role as the most visible face of the Liverpool brand. That makes him the de facto head of the marketing campaign, which then necessitates a facility with dealing with the press.
Louise Taylor of The Guardian addresses this particular failing of the Liverpool manager, accusing him of "operating in a public relations time warp." She continues:
Charming, considerate, generous and amusing when microphones are switched off, he publicly presents a brusque brand of circumspection that is cringe-inducing and contrasts terribly with the savvy, press friendly personas of contemporaries such as Arsène Wenger and Harry Redknapp.
As withering as the assessment may be, it is difficult to argue that it is unfair. Who can forget the Scot having to eat humble pie and apologize to Sky Sports' Jeff Shreeves for comments made in defense of Luis Suárez after the handshake fiasco?
Dalglish owes more to the club, the fans and most importantly, himself and his legacy. Smugness and circumspection are okay as long as one is winning championships; otherwise they just smack of bullheaded petulance.
9. No More Excuses
As a player and during his first stint as Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish was known for being a stand-up guy—frank and honest as the day was long.
Since his return to Anfield, however, there have been far too many occasions on which he has been less than forthright in dealing with the unpleasant aspects of his position.
Take the Luis Suárez racism row with Patrice Evra for instance. Upon first hearing of the charge from referee's assistant Phil Dowd, Dalglish's immediate response was to ask (in reference to Evra) "hasn't he done this before?"
Of course he was wrong on that, but that tidbit notwithstanding, the greater disappointment was in the fact that he chose to immediately embark on a path of denial. He would decline to abandon that path as the saga dragged on.
Next, confronted with his starkly unimpressive record in the league this time around, Dalglish proceeded to harp on the fact that Liverpool have secured new sponsorship deals and that the reserve team is doing well.
Can one realistically imagine Sir Alex Ferguson offering such an excuse for poor league performance? It is unfathomable. Arsene Wenger would be laughed out of town and called a whiner. Andre Villas-Boas...well, never mind. Yet Dalglish somehow thinks that he deserves a pass.
There is always some sort of rationalization, a parsing of the incident by Dalglish. The most recent example was Carroll's dive last weekend against Newcastle, which, as previously noted, the manager chose to attribute to poor balance.
It borders on the ridiculous, really. He goes to great lengths to avoid dealing with the truth, even when it stares him in the face. Yet he remains adamant about doing things his way, as The Guardian's Tim Rich reports. Dalglish insists that, "I won't condemn a player in public. I never have done and I am not going to start now."
A decent enough stance to adapt, but nonetheless, at times there's no better way to confront a crisis—and make no mistake about it, Liverpool are in crisis—than to confront it head on, even if you bruise a few egos in the process.
8. Strengthen the Squad
It's been well-documented that Liverpool have spent an astounding £110 million on new players since Kenny Dalglish took over as manager in January of 2011.
Yes, there have been transfers out, most notably Fernando Torres, resulting in a net expenditure of only £3 million—as the diehards like to remind us. The sum remains exorbitant by any reckoning, however.
What the apologists fail to acknowledge with the "net spending" talk, however, is that Liverpool would still have £78 million in the coffers had they not squandered that sum on the likes of Andy Carroll (£35 million), Stewart Downing (£20 million), Jordan Henderson (£16 million) and Charlie Adam (£7 million).
That sum would have gone a long way toward attracting the type of dynamic young transfer talent that Liverpool so desperately need today.
And just what has this cash infusion bought? At this point last season, Liverpool were sitting on 45 points after 31 games—one point better than Everton, 11 points out of fourth place and 24 points below league-leaders Manchester United.
Compare that to Liverpool's current standing: 42 points after 31 games, one point worse than Everton, 15 points out of contention for fourth place and 34 points below United, who again sit atop the table.
Already this season Liverpool have endured other historic lows. At the start of the season, the Reds were thrashed 4-0 at White Hart Lane as Spurs enjoyed their largest win over Liverpool in 50 years.
Dalglish's squad has lost six of their last seven games, a poor run of form the likes of which haven't been seen since 1953-54, when the team was relegated. For even greater perspective, Mike Adamson of The Guardian does a fine job of putting this season's ineptitude into historical perspective.
Even Mark Lawrenson, the BBC pundit and former Liverpool defender, has weighed in via the BBC: "The biggest problem is that Adam, Downing, Carroll and Henderson between them have contributed six League goals."
Tough decisions need to be made about some of the current players. The squad may not be thin on bodies, but it is certainly thin on talent. Dalglish and the Liverpool hierarchy desperately need to get this summer's transfer activity right.
Liverpool can ill afford yet another season of mediocrity. The fans won't stand for it, and the new ownership certainly won't stand for it either.
7. Settle on a Consistent Lineup
Injury and fatigue are part of life for players in the Premier League. The better managers are adept at having contingency plans in place, resting players when necessary and having quality backups at the ready.
Kenny Dalglish has done a credible job juggling his players in and out of the starting lineup so as to prevent fatigue and injury to the likes of Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Luis Suárez and Craig Bellamy.
Far too often though, Dalglish has stuck too long with unproductive players in the starting lineup, with healthy viable alternatives on the bench.
Owing to his experience as both a title-winning player and manager, the Scotsman deserves a bit of deference in his selection and tactics. Having said that, it has become clear that neither of these seem to be working.
Once Dalglish addresses the quality and depth issues of the squad, the next course of action would be for him to settle on a lineup and field that 11 consistently.
6. Settle on a Consistent Formation
Hand in hand with settling on a consistent lineup is the need to field that 11, whatever the constitution, in a consistent formation.
One must not be rigid, of course, but should adapt one's strategies according to the day's opposition. That's a far cry from the often-confusing squad formations Dalglish has deployed from week to week.
He won much-deserved praise for his tactics against Stoke City on February 2, 2011. For that match he sent Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly down the flanks and kept a three-man back line of Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger to deal with Stoke's aerial attack.
The resultant 3-5-2 overwhelmed Stoke's midfield quintet and created numerous opportunities for Liverpool's attacking players.
Less inspired was the 4-2-3-1 formation against Tottenham this past February, with Adam, Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt pressing Spurs up front, but leaving Steven Gerrard sitting too deep off the ball.
This formation had the unfortunate consequence of allowing Charlie Adam (rather than Gerrard) to roam with impunity. Another drawback was that it also kept Gerrard too deep defensively, allowing Scott Parker too much time on the ball.
Such a tactical disconnect is not only disappointing, but it is downright startling. It suggests either a misguided effort on the part of the manager or an unwillingness or inability of the players to properly implement the plan—which is a concept that isn't entirely beyond the pale.
These examples are offered only for illustration, as there have been other games where the shape of the squad has been difficult to decipher, much less comprehend. If anyone can make sense of the 4-1-4-1 in the recent loss to Wigan, for instance, then by all means have at it.
As stated earlier, a manager of Kenny Dalglish's standing deserves some leeway in his decision-making, but a key part of winning the race, is matching your horses to your courses.
Dalglish must ensure that his personnel and strategy are in tune, and that players are all on the same page. Formation changes ought to be kept to a minimum so as to promote greater familiarity of play between the players, and consistency from the squad as a unit.
5. Promote Youth Players
Increasingly there have been calls for Dalglish to be more aggressive in promoting youth players. This is something that the manager must absolutely address going forward.
The Mirror reports that Raheem Sterling, for one, reportedly has been unhappy with the pace of his development at the club, particularly his lack of first-team opportunities. It was not surprising, then, to see the youngster given his first-team debut against Wigan shortly after word of his rumored dissatisfaction became public.
Before Sterling, there were other younger players who were given their run-outs by the manager, namely Danny Wilson, Jonjo Shelvy, Jon Flanagan (who also featured against Wigan) and most frequently, Martin Kelly.
Worryingly left off that list have been the likes of Dani Pacheco and Suso. They have seemingly worn out their welcomes at Anfield, with the preferred option being to loan them out rather than play them with the first team.
It bears noting that Shelvy seemed on a similar path, but his stellar form for Blackpool gave occasion to a return to the squad. It is promising that he has been featuring sporadically with the first team, but this needs to improve.
4. Decide Liverpool's Footballing Philosophy
With Dalglish's return came much talk of the "pass and move" philosophy for which the Liverpool teams were known during his playing and coaching heyday.
The style requires quickness of both thought and execution, combined with close control ability, vision to create and facilitate passes, and quickness of feet to bring it all together. Why then did Dalglish bother signing Carroll at all, a player who seems ill-suited for this style of play?
Carroll seems to thrive under a more direct style, such as that employed by Newcastle while he was there. None other than Alan Pardew himself acknowledged this when he said, "Andy needs to have a game plan that works for him and Liverpool are struggling to find that game plan for him with the players they have."
While some will undoubtedly view this as meddling, Pardew is only stating the obvious. All season Liverpool fans have been treated to the sight of Carroll tripping over his own feet, mis-trapping the ball, failing to move and anticipate off the ball, and playing passes to no one in particular.
This is said not to bash the player, but rather it as an observation that "pass and move" simply isn't his strength.
At Newcastle he was best running onto crosses from the wing, particularly from Jonas Gutierrez on the left. Stewart Downing was brought in to provide similar wing play and passing, but that has failed to materialize thus far at Liverpool.
Whether Dalglish is to blame for failing to get the players on the same page or the players are to blame for simply not possessing the requisite skill set, the ultimate fault lies with the hierarchy who brought them in—whether that be Dalglish or director of football Damien Comolli.
One should resist trying to fit a square peg into a round pass-and-move hole. Either the team plays to Carroll's strength, or LFC should just cut their losses and desist with the pointless experiment.
If pass and move is to be the preferred style, then it's difficult to see much of a role for Carroll or the likes of the slow-footed Charlie Adam. Once again, harsh choices need to be made.
3. Make a Decision on Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll has quite possibly reached his nadir as a Liverpool player, and this very likely may be a situation from which the Tyneside native finds it difficult to recover.
Returning to St. James' Park for the first time since his £35 million transfer from Newcastle 15 months ago, Carroll had what could best be described as an inglorious return to his old stomping grounds.
In the 12th minute he had glory within reach, as he beat the Newcastle offside trap and had only goalkeeper Tim Krul to get by, which he did. With the goal mouth beckoning, however, Carroll inexplicably went to ground without any contact whatsoever from the Newcastle keeper.
He was rightly booked for diving, despite his petulant protests. Without being privy to what's going on inside Carroll's head, the decision to hope for a penalty rather than take his chance at goal bespeaks a player totally bereft of confidence.
In the alternative, perhaps the moment in front of his boyhood crowd got the better of him. Cause notwithstanding, Dalglish disappointingly chose to rationalize Carroll's actions rather than address his obvious failings.
We have no qualms about when Andy went down with the goalkeeper...I thought it wasn't a penalty kick and I also thought Andy was losing his balance anyway before he reached the goalkeeper. We don't have a problem with that – maybe a problem with the yellow card because I don't think he was intentionally trying to get a penalty kick.
Up is down and left is right; right is wrong and day is night.
Dalglish also sidestepped questions about Carroll's apparent dissent (and profanity directed towards the bench) upon being substituted.
Yet Carroll is only 23 and there is time still for him to rediscover his form. Liverpool need not give up on him just yet, despite the calls from some quarters. His failures need to be taken into perspective, and the player should be given the proper support to improve his form.
That failing, it would then be best to effect a smooth separation so that club and player could move on.
2. Get the Best out of Luis Suárez
Where do we begin? Suárez is a delightfully gifted player, capable of striking fear into the heart of any defense...on his day.
Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, those days have been few and far between this campaign. Counting Saturday's tally, they've only seen a paltry eight-goal return on the huge financial and emotional investment in the mercurial player.
Enough has been said with regards to the numerous controversies as is; what Dalglish needs to do now is to rein in his player so that he better harnesses his potential. He must get his striker to be more consistent on the field, and in particular, more accurate and decisive in the box.
In this regard, Dalglish's challenge is no different from any manager. However, it is no exaggeration to say that perhaps more than any other club with top-four aspirations, Liverpool have suffered more from the lack of clinical finishing.
As of last month, Liverpool were putting only 41 percent of their shots on target. Of that embarrassing sum, only a paltry 20 percent ended up in the back of the net, ranking them dead last in the Premier League.
Of course, not all of Liverpool's profligacy in front of goal can be put on the shoulders of Suárez; there is more than enough blame to go around in that department.
Nonetheless, of his 92 shots this season, only 40 (or 43 percent) have been on target. Of those 40 shots on target, only eight have successfully hit the back of the net.
Production aside, there are temperament issues as well. The player earns himself no favors with his playacting, embellishment and gesticulations on the field.
A couple weeks ago Stewart Downing was the recipient of the Uruguayan's frustration, for having darted one way as the striker put an intended pass the other. This past weekend it was none other than Steven Gerrard who was berated for a wayward pass which failed to reach its target.
Frustration, in the most charitable sense, can be seen as a sign that the player at least cares what's happening on the pitch...but that's not to suggest that caring is enough.
There have been controversies off the field, as well as misguided comments hinting at a Paris Saint-Germain move (per The Telegraph); the Guardian even described him as the Premier League's resident "pantomime villain." It is beyond time that Luis Suárez becomes known for his on-pitch brilliance, rather than being the lightning rod for controversy that he currently is.
1. Get Back into Contention...or Step Down
Kenny Dalglish's biggest decision next season should the team struggle would be to tender his resignation to the board so that the club can continue with its rebuilding under much more capable hands.
Unquestionably, he deserves another shot at making things right and so any call for his removal this season is premature. Don't expect him to quit either, as former teammate and current BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson told the BBC.
All that said, he has not gotten the job done to date, and frankly, were he anyone else but Kenny Dalglish, he'd have long been issued his marching papers. New ownership no doubt would not want a fan revolt on their hands, and they just may be playing it cautious with the Scot.
Caution aside, there is justified reluctance from within to spoil the legacy of the greatest player in Liverpool history. But again, tough decisions will have to be made at some point.
Compared to other managers (Claudio Raineri, Andre Villas-Boas, Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson), Kenny has been given more time and money to succeed. He has not only failed at the task, but failed spectacularly in comparison to his peers, who were all sacked despite having achieved more.
There can be no more excuses going forward. Kenny must deliver; if he doesn't, then he must resign and spare the club the spectacle of having to dismiss him.
There's no arrogance in saying that Liverpool Football Club is bigger than sponsorship deals and a well-run, productive academy—when it comes to a club of Liverpool's stature, those go without saying.
Bill Shankly once famously said "If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing." It is a maxim that Dalglish would do well to remember.
Postscript and Afterthoughts
This article easily could have gone in the other direction, arguing for Kenny Dalglish's dismissal. On balance, however, he deserves another chance—provided that he's committed to making changes.
The suggestions presented here are by no means a perfect elixir for what ails Liverpool FC, and I am not so naive or hubristic as to presume that I know all the answers.
Fans who care deeply for the club will recognize that no person is bigger than the club, and that no matter who is at the helm, success of the club is ultimately what matters most.
Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments as to where Kenny should focus in order for the club to achieve its stated purpose of once more challenging for the Premiership and Champions League titles. The best suggestions will be posted in this space, with attribution to the individuals suggesting them.
Other Areas of Focus, as Suggested by Fans
"Since KK became manager , LFC gross and net spent on player was over 50% of the amount that Benitez had spent on players during his six year stint . Benitez spent around 230M (gross )and 63 (net)."
"Benitez spent a sum of -80.5 million on MAJOR PLAYERS. He got the club 80.5 million when the players were sold, more than they had. He got a club on the cusp of 3rd, to 2 champions league finals, fa cup winners, and premier league runners up"
"[B]uy jordi alba and soldado from valencia, both looked good against real madrid. And soldado was doin a hell of alot better in aerial battles than ive seen carroll do. Both are good passers, alba has some pace"
"The only other factor in the mix is the question of the new stadium or redeveloping Anfield. As long as this is outstanding Liverpool continue to bleed big revenue to their main rivals."