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Liverpool's success on the field cannot mask Kenny Dalglish's failure to grasp a new set of circumstances away from the pitch

Some old habits survived the decade that Kenny Dalglish spent away from the forefront of the game.

Kenny Dalglish's approach to the Luis Suarez controversy  is rooted in his traditional values. Picture: PA
Kenny Dalglish's approach to the Luis Suarez controversy is rooted in his traditional values. Picture: PA

He returned to his role as Liverpool manager on a surge of hope and sentiment, quickly assuming again the ownership of Anfield's sense of entitlement. Yet in the 13 months since, as well as restoring the competitive values of a club that once measured its success in championships and European Cups, Dalglish has become increasingly cantankerous.

The Liverpool supporters will always revere him, and there has been enough potential in the brilliant possibilities of Luis Suarez, the hope that Steven Gerrard might regain his imperious style, and the enduring, rakish threat posed by Craig Bellamy, for fans to believe that the team will progress further.

The fear had been that Dalglish's approach might be outdated, that the contemporary game had moved beyond his understanding. That was soon dispelled by the team's tactical flexibility, and the way that the players responded to him despite a generational gap that might seem like a chasm to a brusque Glaswegian whose playing days were not littered with extravagant wealth and an unfettered type of fame.

In Suarez, Dalglish identified a player whose intuitive guile and arch movement would galvanise the players and the fans; the Uruguayan, though, has also provoked a bout of misjudgment. In so forcefully backing the striker when he was accused, then found guilty by the FA, of racially abusing Patrice Evra, Dalglish revealed a lack of subtlety, of awareness even.

At the least, he sanctioned the T-shirts the Liverpool players wore in support of Suarez, and even donned one himself, but even after the club's reaction was widely viewed to be crass and ill-advised, Dalglish refused to relent. "He should never have been out in the first place," the Liverpool manager said curtly after Monday night's 0-0 draw with Tottenham, when Suarez returned as a substitute following his eight-game ban.

The remark was needless, but exposed again the grievance that continues to irk Dalglish. When he was asked his response to the widespread booing of Evra in the FA Cup tie against Manchester United at Anfield last month, Dalglish became indignant. "Are you winding me up?" he asked the reporter. "Why would I be disappointed for Patrice Evra? Have you ever played football? I can't even believe you asked that question."

Dalglish has never been tolerant with journalists, his gruffness shaped by an inherent suspicion of the profession. The kind, generous, personable, acerbic and quick-witted side of his personality is seldom displayed to the media, and at all the clubs he has managed, he has eventually fallen into a form of tense combat with journalists.

A question – worded to prompt praise from the manager – about Andy Carroll was recently met with another scornful response. Dalglish is inclined to feel persecuted, and he is not alone in being contemptuous. Sir Alex Ferguson is generally withering in his dealings with the press, but his compatriot's handling of the Suarez issue raises a deeper issue.

During his time out of the game, football and the media came to a new, more intrusive, more lurid relationship with each other. Walter Smith noticed it, too, when he returned to Ibrox for his second spell as Rangers manager and found the press to be more demanding and meddlesome. Dalglish's reaction to Suarez being accused of racism was instinctive, he defended the player, as a matter of principle.

The Scot still upholds the old values, where the loyalty and unity of the dressing room is sanctified. In an age when Stan Collymore could collect Twitter messages referring to Evra as a "n*****" and a "slave", and the media endlessly turns issues over, the Liverpool manager needed to strike a less blunt attitude. Even allowing for the nuances of culture and language that the club based their robust defence on – Maxi Rodriguez, the midfielder, had a poster of the Argentina squad offering their good wishes to a compatriot who had been shot with the message "Vamos Negro" – Dalglish failed to read or acknowledge the weight of opinion around the club.

He has always enjoyed a deeply emotional and sensitive relationship with the city of Liverpool, where he encountered the same working-class values, passion for the game and dark, unforgiving humour as his native Glasgow. In response, Liverpool embraced Dalglish in a more heartfelt manner than any of his predecessors apart from, perhaps, Bill Shankly.

Yet Dalglish's failure to interpret so much of the Suarez situation was damaging, and contributes still to a hostile mood. Ferguson defended Eric Cantona after the Frenchman assaulted a fan, but he did not deny the seriousness of the transgression. Managers relish the opportunities of a siege mentality, but they also have a moral obligation to their clubs, to act as leaders.

Liverpool are in the Carling Cup final, still in the FA Cup and challenging for European positions. Dalglish is also expected to spend heavily again in the summer to continue the team's evolution. He will continue to be abrasive, and unforgiving, but he is still coming to terms with some of the changes around the game. He once held Celtic press conferences in an East End pub, but that kind of indulgence would not be accepted now.

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