KENNY DALGLISH should be able to do no wrong in the eyes of Scotland and Liverpool football fans.
The lack of sympathy on both sides of the border to his sacking yesterday, therefore, told its own sad story.
This has not been a happy homecoming for Dalglish, his notable shortcomings in his second stint as Liverpool manager giving further material to those who subscribe to the idea that legends should never retrace their steps. His tenure has not been sufficiently disastrous to entirely erase the legacy accrued as a player and then as a manager first time around but, among sympathisers, the decision to remove him from office at least ensures he can do no further damage to his ailing reputation.
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Dalglish has always come across as a taciturn, surly figure but his demeanour in recent months, amid a chain of poor results that ensured the club's worst league position for 18 years, made it difficult to root for him. For those who had grown up with Dalglish placed on a pedestal – the man who performed endless heroics in a Scotland shirt while delivering trophy after trophy for Liverpool – it made for an uncomfortable transition.
The Luis Suarez furore was the perfect case in point. Following accusations of racism made by Manchester United's Patrice Evra, Dalglish made it clear from the start that he would back his player to the hilt, regardless of the seriousness of the alleged offences.
Even when Suarez exacerbated the situation by later refusing to shake Evra's hand before a match, Dalglish, dogged as ever, again refused to contemplate the notion that the Uruguayan may have been in the wrong, treating questions on the matter with a look that suggested he had just discovered something foul on the sole of his shoe. Only after intervention from the club's American owners did an apology of sorts finally emerge.
All those foibles would likely have been accepted, however, had Dalglish shown signs of bringing lasting improvement on the field. There were fleeting moments of promise – this season's Carling Cup was the club's first trophy in six years while they also reached the FA Cup final – but domestic cups were barely sufficient return given the outlay on players and subsequent demands. An eighth-place finish for a club expected to qualify for the Champions League year on year was never going to be enough to appease either the fans or owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG), watching their investment with increasing levels of concern from across the Atlantic.
The £110m made available to Dalglish was not particularly well utilised. Andy Carroll, on whom £35m was hastily spent to fill a large Fernando Torres-shaped hole, and Stewart Downing, in particular, have failed to deliver what was expected of them, although that did not stop Roy Hodgson, Dalglish's predecessor, from picking them both in his England squad for this summer's European Championships.
Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam – after a promising start – and Sebastian Coates have all struggled to make a lasting impact, while the decision to let Raul Mereiles leave for Chelsea also looks, in hindsight, to have been a mistake. Suarez, in fact, has probably been the best of Dalglish's expensive signings, although that has been largely overshadowed by his reprehensible behaviour in the Evra matter.
Damien Comolli, the club's former director of football, seemed to have borne the brunt of the blame for those signings when he was removed from office last month. Dalglish, however, had insisted at the time that the buck still stopped with him, a statement that may have crossed the minds of owner John Henry and the other FSG executives when they summoned Dalglish and assistant Steve Clarke to a meeting in Boston earlier this week.
Those who expected Henry to soft-soap Dalglish's departure, to perhaps slot him into Comolli's old job or create some sort of Anfield ambassadorial role were clearly not au fait with how this group operates. Sentiment is not one of the attributes they consider when hiring and firing managers, as Terry Francona discovered to his cost last autumn. Francona had been the man to deliver two world [sic] titles after an 86-year absence to the Boston Red Sox, the flagship baseball club at the heart of the FSG empire, but, following a late collapse, that meant the team failed to qualify for the end-of-season play-offs, Francona was let go.
The statement yesterday announcing the termination of Dalglish's contract lauded all of his achievements in the three phases of his Liverpool career – player, his first spell as manager, and then his second spell – but clearly none of that had shaped FSG's thinking when it came to removing him from office.
The Liverpool job was Dalglish's first in frontline management since his short spell in charge of Celtic 12 years ago and it is difficult to imagine him taking over at another club.
He had been desperate for the chance to prove he could still cut it at that level. Sixteen months on and only regrets remain.