The honeymoon period is over for John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Fenway Sports Group (FSG) at Liverpool, and so too was Kenny Dalglish’s as he was sacked yesterday evening, leaving the club in search of their fourth manager in four years. Dalglish joins Director of Football Damien Comolli, Communications Chief Ian Cotton and Head of Sports Science, Peter Brukner all of whom have left the club in recent weeks and months.
Initially, things looked promising under Dalglish, as he brought with him some semblance of stability or rather, appeased the Liverpool fans when he took over following the departure of Roy Hodgson in January 2011 – before leading the club to a 6th place finish in the league. This season, fortunes on the field appeared to be significantly better (mainly in the cup competitions) the 61-year-old, guided Liverpool to a Carling Cup triumph and FA Cup final (defeated by Chelsea). And that is where the positives end, ultimately, Dalglish’s biggest downfall was Liverpool’s Premier League form.
As Chairman Tom Werner highlighted in the statement released by Liverpool yesterday, “results in the Premier League have been disappointing”. This season, the Reds won as many games as they lost (14) – an eighth place finish equates to the clubs worst in 18 years and they accumulated their lowest points tally (52) since 1953/54. Home form, at Anfield has also been very poor winning just six games in the league all season – only once before have Liverpool won fewer games at home in a league season and that was back in 1948/49 when they won just five games.
In the club statement, Dalglish said “I would not have swapped the Carling Cup win for anything.” While most will admire Dalglish’s stance on this and the importance of winning a trophy – Liverpool’s first since 2006 – the drop off in the second half of the Premier League season was cause for concern for many supporters. The Reds ended 2011 having just lost three times (in 19 PL games), however in 2012, they suffered 11 defeats in 19 games. For the first half of the season, Liverpool collected on average of around 1.79 points per game – level with Chelsea, and higher than Newcastle (1.58 points per game) but their points per game ratio dropped significantly in the second half of the season to 0.94.
So, in terms of the Carling Cup win, the FA Cup final and the crippling league form it was two steps forward and one step back. Liverpool picked up 18 points (out of a possible 57) in 2012 – only three teams picked up less in that time Blackburn (17), Aston Villa (15) and Wolves (8), two of those teams were relegated, while the other came desperately close to that feat. Had it not been for their league form in the opening half of the season, Liverpool could realistically have finished mid-table.
Many different views will be put forward as to why Dalglish should stay, but football is a results business which driven by qualification for European football, namely the Champions League and the riches that it brings with it. Finishing 37 points off the champions, Manchester City and 17 points off Champions League place, the Liverpool hierarchy had to take action.
Some of the other aspects of Dalglish’s management which could be regarded as being poor (but perhaps not have played a hand in his departure), was the way that the Luis Suarez debacle was handled, team selection has been questionable at times too – a lack of continuity in the starting eleven was evident throughout the season, mainly in the attacking third of the field and finally, the players signed – Suarez and Craig Bellamy aside, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam had poor seasons, Jose Enrique had a wretched second half of the season, while Andy Carroll though showed glimpses of brilliance towards the end of the season.
In moving forward: “Our job now is to identify and recruit the right person to take this club forward and build on the strong foundations put in place during the last 18 months.” were the words of John W. Henry yesterday, and already the names of Roberto Martinez, Andre Villas-Boas, even another former manager, Rafa Benitez has been mentioned in relation to the vacancy. One thing is for certain, there is an interesting summer ahead at Anfield.