Kenny Dalglish: How His Tried and Tested Formula Failed
In the summer of 2012, Kenny Dalglish left the Liverpool management role for the second time in his career. A legend as a player and in his first term in office, Kenny could not find the success he had previously had at Liverpool and Blackburn in the '80s and '90s. Many put this down to a poor league showing and his failures when dealing with the press. Indeed, as time went by his puns and quips with the journalists become more arrogant and aggressive, and he himself admitted that (via ESPN):
If it ever happened again, and I hope it wouldn't, it would be done completely differently
But where did Kenny go wrong? Why could he not lead Liverpool the way he did back in the past? Looking at his management skills from the '80s Liverpool, and the squad from 2011/12, many interesting points can be said about both squads, and why they didn't work in today's game.
Let's start with the last Liverpool squad Dalglish fully completed a season with: 1989-1990. The last Liverpool team to win the league championships, Kenny was still player/manager at the time, although his legs had all but gone at this point, but was still able to make the killer pass or vital goal. This team had players such as Ian Rush, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Alan Hansen and the infamous Ronnie Rosenthal, who all helped contribute to Liverpool's 18th and last championship title.
Kenny had the players in a 4-4-1-1:
RB: Staunton CB: Hansen CB: Hysen LB: Nicol
RM: Barnes CM: McMahon CM: Whelan LM: Houghton
You could expect that Dalglish would be a bit-part CF, as would Rosenthal later in the season. Molby made a lot of appearances also, but was beginning to pile on the pounds. McMahon was the architect of the team, pulling the strings as playmaker in centre midfield. John Barnes and Peter Beardsley provided the attacking flair whilst Ian Rush would pretty much finish anything placed in front of him!
This Liverpool team represented everything Dalglish had picked up from his time at Anfield: The playmaker dominating the centre, (before Dalglish's era, this player used to be in the mould of Souness, Scottish, tough with the ability to pass) the speedy winger putting the ball at the target man's head/feet, the tall target man with his smaller, more sprightly centre forward beside him.
Now let's compare this to Dalglish's 2011/2012 team...
Now the modern Liverpool side. The team managed to win the League Cup and reach the final of the FA Cup, but a seventh place finish and bad management in the press meant that Kenny left the club at his second attempt. Kenny maintained the 4-4-1-1 formation, and filled it with £100m worth of talent such as Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Steward Downing, Jose Enrique, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. He had already established regulars in Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, and the heart and soul of Liverpool, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.
This is the team that played Chelsea in the FA Cup final in 2012.
RB: Johnson CB: Agger CB: Skrtel LB: Enrique
RM: Downing CM: Henderson CM: Spearing LM: Bellamy
Last season's Liverpool squad often changed forms as Kenny struggled to find a winning formula in the league. The system was built on the Suarez/Carroll partnership but a out-of-form Carroll often struggled to break into the team, leaving the mercurial Bellamy to often take his place in the team. An injury to Lucas Leiva, (arguably the most important player on the pitch) meant that inexperienced Jay Spearing had to step up this season, swapping with Charlie Adam who was inconsistent at times during the season, before suffering a bad injury.
The main disappointment of the season was Stewart Downing. Liverpool had paid £17m for his services from Aston VIlla, but Downing never got going during the season, giving Henderson and the fan's favourite Dirk Kuyt chances in the starting XI.
Liverpool: 1989-1990 vs 2011-2012: The Players
The players are comparable, if not in quality.
You can see Kenny was trying to implement past Liverpool squads into the 2011 roster: The Scot in midfield became Adam, the pacy winger and the target man became Downing and Carroll, whilst the tall target man went from Ian Rush to Andy Carroll. Steven Gerrard was the immense playmaker and Luis Suarez was the Beardsley-type creative link between midfield and attack.
You can also compare the defence of both teams: Agger became the ball-playing centre back Hansen was, whilst Hysen and Skrtel also have similar attributes concerning strength and power. Attacking full backs were present in both teams: Johnson and Enrique; Nicol and Staunton.
This is where Kenny's failings begin. He relied on a past system? Fair enough. But to fill them with exactly the same characteristics as his previous squad? Charlie Adam will never be the playmaker Graeme Souness and Ronnie Whelan were, Downing was doomed to fail playing in John Barnes' old position. Suarez was the effective player Beardsley was, but did not hit the net often enough. As for Andy Carroll, his pricetag weighed heavily on his Geordie shoulders, and despite recovering form later in the season, he proved he could become a good player, but not one worthy of taking the mantle from Rush, Fowler and the like.
Time had moved on from Dalglish's old system, and Kenny should have looked for better players which fitted a more flowing system, and not mostly British.
Liverpool: 1989-1990 vs 2011-2012: The Tactics
I'm not saying Liverpool should play like Barcelona. That is simply improbable.
There's always been the Liverpool way at Anfield, if not always on the pitch. It was in the passing movement of the '80s, attempted (with not the same success) in the Souness era, and we saw flashes of it appear in the Evan's squad. In modern times, even Houlier's defensive set-up had quality passes at times, and Benitez's pressing tactics evolved the idea of the Liverpool way. Roy Hodgson was the one manager who hid the style of play behind the rugged 4-4-2 and negative tactics, but was back in Dalglish's team.
But it was lumbered and often of a poor standard, with Adam playing long-balls many a time, while Jay Spearing isn't the type of player to play fast-tempo passing game. Dalglish should've adapted his 4-4-1-1, making it more flowing, pushing the wingers higher and instilling a possession and pressing formula into the Liverpool squad (the very thing Brendan Rodgers is attempting) while keeping some ideas that served him well.
In 1989/1990, the pass and move system used was like Barcelona's in modern times: Unique, and teams would always struggle to win possesion back. Dalglish used this system to great effect, and it is wildly believed that if Liverpool were allowed in Europe that year, they would've returned champions.
Many will put this down to Dalglish being out of the game for a while, but he had never been out of it. Always involved in football one way or another, Dalglish had time to adjust and develop his tactical formula, but he left it as it was. And that was another mistake.
Kenny Dalglish deserves the legendary status he has at the club, both as a player and manager, albeit the first time around. Yet his outdated tactics and his choices of players, along with his shabby PR skills all come to the conclusion that Kenny had left his managing repertoire to age. Because of this, his second stint as Liverpool manager is considered by many as a failure.
It is funny to think that a man who brought the League Cup and reached the final of another can be considered such, yet his league form went against the man.
I'd like to thank all the readers who have stuck with the article, and I hope you enjoyed it!