I suspect I’m a bit of an oddball on this site. All the other contributors to Natter Football have one thing in common – they have a very strong allegiance to one club. I don’t, I’m afraid. I don’t support any particular team. You can put it down to my gypsy-like upbringing where my family never stayed in one town long enough for me to put down any roots, let alone feel a real affinity with the local team. Also, my dad hated football and so, unlike many dedicated football fans, I didn’t inherit a club from him.
But I’m more than content being the equivalent of a football tart. I live in London and so when it comes to watching football I’m spoilt for choice, whether it’s the Premiership, League or Conference. I go wherever I fancy. Not for me the trials and tribulations experienced by the one-club fan. I’m drawn to the ground where I think I’ll be entertained best.
This club-less state also enables me to nurture a quality missing from those who suffer from an addiction to one club: objectivity. Because I’m not automatically biased I find I’m often able to see things in a game that are lost on supporters of either side. The same applies to media coverage of our national sport, which is so often distorted by the need to sensationalise often mundane events.
Which brings me to my topic for this piece. Looking back over the current season and the myriad developments and personalities that have made it so enjoyable at all levels, for me the achievements of one man stand out. Take a bow Kenny Dalglish. The recent demise of Liverpool has been well documented, so I won’t repeat the miserable tale here. But Dalglish’s achievements in turning his club around and re-kindling in such a short time the passion and fire for which Liverpool has always been well known, marks him out as my man of the season.
OK, it looks unlikely that Liverpool will finish in the top four and will end up trophy-less yet again, but on the evidence of his team’s 3-0 drubbing of Manchester City the other night, Dalglish’s club is on the march again and looks a good bet for honours next season.
That Dalglish has turned the club around , despite suffering injuries to key players, is testament to the man’s abilities. Having been forced to sanction the sale of the unhappy (and underperforming) Torres, King Kenny moved decisively into the transfer market buying Carroll and Suarez. But apart from those two acquisitions, both of whom weren’t available for a while because of injuries and illness, the turnaround has been achieved by the same players who underperformed under Roy Hodgson.
Dalglish’s man management skills have never been in doubt, but what he possesses more than almost any other top-flight manager is a deep and abiding love of his club and its fans. And it is this quality, more than any other, that has inspired his players and got them performing on the pitch. They know that their boss is the real deal and that he genuinely cares about Liverpool. Since taking over from Hodgson, he has made frequent references to the club being bigger than any individual, including, in particular, himself. He has also continually repeated that it is an honour and a privilege to serve such a great club. The message is clear: egos count for nothing. All that matters is performance.
Dalglish’s commitment to Anfield was forged, not just during a hugely successful career as a Liverpool player, but I suspect, during the darkest days following the Hillsborough tragedy when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death. As the then manager, Dalglish, supported by his wife and family, worked tirelessly to provide whatever support and comfort he could to the families and loved-ones of those who died. This selfless dedication inevitably took its toll leading eventually to him stepping down as manager due to exhaustion and some say a disenchantment with the game.
But the harrowing experience of the Hillsborough tragedy unquestionably made him the man he is today because he discovered firsthand, and in the most personal and traumatic way imaginable, just how much Liverpool meant to the fans.
So, when Dalglish talks to his players about commitment, passion and dedication, they understand, because he speaks from the heart and it is that which makes the difference.
These qualities were very much in evidence in Liverpool’s outstanding performance against the expensively assembled and much hyped Man City. The contrast between the two sides was there for all to see – raw passion and commitment from Liverpool versus a casual, couldn’t-care-less attitude from the massively overpaid mercenaries of City.
What would City – or any other club -give for just a little bit of Dalglish magic?
So take a bow King Kenny: my man of the season.
By Peter Marsh – Unattached