By Jonathan Birchall at Anfield
It has been the stuff of fairytales at Anfield this season. The much-loved king returns to save a crumbling empire having seen it come under siege in his far too lengthy absence.
Kenny Dalglish’s four months back at the Liverpool helm has taken the club forwards by returning back to the values that made it great in the first place. Restoration, not revolution.
If the red half of Merseyside want to live happily ever after however, then the upcoming chapters of the club’s tale must surely be entrusted to Dalglish – you would think, by now, that he has more than earned it.
When the club’s prodigal son took over from the much-maligned Roy Hodgson on January 9, Liverpool were sat in 12th, only four points above the relegation zone and 10 points off fifth place with usual thoughts of European qualification having been replaced in some quarters, somewhat unthinkably, with those of the dreaded drop.
Now, having disposed of Newcastle 3-0 at Anfield with the cocksure, professional swagger that came to define the club’s most illustrious era, the Reds are sat in a Europa League spot and talk of Champions League qualification, although improbable, is not completely out of the question.
The socialist sentiments of Bill Shankly that proved the ideologue of Liverpool teams past have returned under Dalglish, with belief in the collective taking prevalence over the strength of individuals.
During the darkest days of the Hodgson reign, the thought of beating Newcastle, or anyone else for that matter, with such ease without Steven Gerrard or the now-departed Fernando Torres would have been met with a barrage of ‘two-man club’ diatribe.
|THE DALGLISH LEAGUE TABLE
|Points accumulated since Kenny Dalglish became Liverpool manager on January 9|
Under King Kenny however, players such as Lucas, revelatory new man Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, who now has eight goals in his last seven appearances after his penalty against Alan Pardew’s side, have contributed a far broader pool of talent on which the team can rely.
Gerrard may still be the prince at Anfield, but those around him are looking far more majestic under the new regime than was ever the case under Hodgson. No wonder belief is as high on the pitch as it is on the Kop.
Liverpool have found the back of the net in every single league game in which they have played in 2011 and have picked up 30 points from 15 games, so to deliver a message of caution seems needlessly pessimistic.
However, the financial power behind Manchester City and the admirable strength in depth of Tottenham suggests that the Anfield outfit are going to have to rely on more than simply the wisdom of Dalglish if they are to challenge for the Champions League next season.
And that is assuming Dalglish's permanent appointment as manager is as foregone a conclusion in the Anfield boardroom as it should be by now.
Owner John W Henry has been repeatedly cautious in his comments about the managerial situation, perhaps keen not to disrupt the momentum his team has.
But now has come the tipping point - wait any longer, and players who have been playing so hard for Dalglish and assistant Steve Clarke might begin to wonder if he's going to be around come the summer. Such uncertainty has derailed many an in-form team in the past.
Deadwood still exists at Liverpool and squad players such as Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky and Milan Jovanovic must be replaced with stronger alternatives.
The signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll certainly offer the promise of further riches at the disposal of technical director Damien Comolli and a strengthening of the side’s midfield would provide a platform from which the squad’s current crop could excel at the highest level.
A happy ending seems tantalisingly close for a club so desperate to regain their status as the country’s finest, though much will rely on its owners in the coming months. Financial backing in the transfer market is imperative, but even that pales into insignificance when the question of whether Dalglish should be given the job full-time. Failure to do so would be to needlessly waste four months good work.
The days of Hicks and Gillett are dead on Merseyside and for Liverpool’s fans; the hope is that it will be a case of long live the king on the Anfield throne. FSG should hurry along with his coronation.