King Kenny is spiky as ever
Understanding Kenny Dalglish has never been easy. It is precisely 20 years since media observations on the manager hurtling towards an FA Cup fifth-round replay under the floodlights at Goodison Park were that he was "not a natural public relations man and will not enter into popular discussion save only to stay a shade on the acceptable side of rudeness".
The passage of time has changed nothing and though supporters welcome the return of “the Liverpool Way” – a culture of keeping your business behind doors – Dalglish was offering no assistance yesterday for those seeking to conjure romance from the story of how he will return to Goodison as Liverpool manger for the first time in 20 years tomorrow.
There can be little doubt that the memory of that February night is burnished across his soul: a 4-4 draw between a Liverpool whose side,
blessed with Ian Rush, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, stood three points clear at the top of the First Division, and an underperforming Everton languishing in 12th.
The events on the field of play led Dalglish, suffering the acute post-traumatic stress of the Hillsborough disaster at the time, to feel he was “going mad,” as he later put it. He resigned in the Anfield trophy room two days later.
From the moment he was re-appointed as manager in January, Dalglish has bristled at the notion the pressures of the 21st century are greater than anything he faced back then.
There was “pressure with every job” he shot back on 10 January at his inaugural press conference.
The first shoots of promise have been there this season. Liverpool briefly topped the table after the 3-1 home win over Bolton and victory at Arsenal seven days earlier suggested a scaling of heights.
But the sunny picture has since been suffused with doubt. It is too soon to start divining whether Liverpool will challenge for the Champions League place which their prinicipal owner, John W Henry, has declared should be theirs. But the 4-0 defeat by Tottenham – the kind of side who are challenging Dalglish toe-to-toe for Champions League lustre – was a desperate one.
Liverpool need another half dozen fixtures before anyone can rush to judgment but Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam did not resemble|players to take the side back to the place where they want to be.
Neither do we know whether Andy Carroll might be – Dalglish's touchiness on the subject offers no illumination – even though the shimmering Luis Suarez leaves no shadow of doubt. Naturally, Dalglish resisted any suggestion yesterday that the Merseyside derby has a lesser significance these days.
“It was more intense then as what it is now,” Dalglish said, remembering the 1980s.
“But I don't think the Merseyside derby has devalued in any way. It's a Merseyside derby and everyone involved will think it's the most important.
“It probably is the most friendly derby of any in the Premier League. But is it the same as it was before? That's up to other people to judge.”
In one moment of levity, Dalglish said he remembered his first derby but could not recall seeing the ball.
“Football has changed,” he said. “It's less physical than it was.”
The challenges come in other ways and are no less uncompromising.