After the season, I initially thought that John Henry and Fenway Sports Group (FSG) would be too public relations conscious to fire manager and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish. Wednesday, they proved me wrong and showed the fortitude that was lacking when Terry Francona left the Red Sox by “mutual consent.” It is clear that FSG was never completely sold on Dalglish returning to management after a 10-year absence, and 20 years removed from his first stint managing Liverpool.
Here is the timeline of events that lead to Dalglish becoming Liverpool manager a second time.
- Then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez brought King Kenny back to Liverpool as a club ambassador and to work with the youth academy. Think Yaz at spring training along with some schmoozing in the Legend’s suite.
- Rafa Benitez was sacked as manager by former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette after finishing seventh in the league.
- Kenny Dalglish publicly states he would like to manage Liverpool again.
- Roy Hodgson was hired to replace Benitez. Dalglish remains in his ambassadorial role.
- Liverpool has an awful start under Hodgson. Dalglish, while not undermining Hodgson, does lament that he was not hired. Restless fans begin to clamor for a return of the king.
- FSG buys Liverpool and gives Hodgson a vote of confidence. They also hire Damien Comolli as “Director of Football Strategy.”
- Hodgson is finally sacked and legend-in-waiting Kenny Dalglish is called back from a cruise to take over as interim manager. Cimolli is promoted to director of football – basically general manager.
- Liverpool plays better under Dalglish. Fans and media begin to campaign for him to be given the job permanently.
- After the season, FSG gives him the job permanently.
At no point did FSG conduct an actual search. It would be one thing if there was some sort of process and, at the end of it, it was decided that Kenny Dalglish was the right man. It is easier to fire a person you inherited than it is to sack somebody you appointed.
Make no mistake, this is the right move for the club. The spent a ton of money last summer and finished lower than they did the year before. FSG’s plan was to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League to get the tens of millions of pounds of prize money that comes with it. That would allow them to use that money to sign more players. The prestige of playing in the Champions League can’t be understated. Elite players want to play in the world’s most elite competition. Not only did Liverpool not qualify, they backtracked.
Last summer when Liverpool was splashing the cash, it was not entirely clear who was calling the shots Comolli or Dalglish. Most Premier League managers are in the Bill Belichick mold and run their clubs as their own fiefdom. It always looked like an awkward arrangement between the old school Dalglish and Comolli, who has been portrayed as the Billy Beane of soccer with his affinity for statistics and quantitative analysis. The club stated that the moves were Dalglish’s, so when Comolli was fired a few weeks ago, it appeared that there was either a power struggle or he was scapegoated. Now that Dalglish has joined him on the unemployment line, FSG has decided to clean house and start over.
If media reports are to be believed, FSG is looking for a young, dynamic manager to take over. That sounds a lot like a Theo Epstein type to a Red Sox fan. Given their desperation to mount a challenge for the Champions League, I would suggest Claudio Ranieri would be a better fit. The “Tinker Man” is clearly more Dick Williams than Terry Francona. If the past in any indication, he will improve the team immediately before wearing out his welcome. If, in the short term, he could get Liverpool back into the Champions League, it would at least stop the bleeding and the perception that Liverpool are fallen giants. A year or two later, if and when things turn south, Liverpool could then make a more long-term appointment.
After a disappointing season, FSG has cleaned house. This is their time to truly make the club their own and chart a course for the future with their people in place.