Filling Dalglish's shoes a big job

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan has warned the team's American owners that Kenny Dalglish's replacement as manager must have the record and reputation to command instant respect or the club risk a repeat of the Roy Hodgson fiasco.

Whelan (pictured), who played with and for Dalglish when Liverpool dominated English soccer in the 1980s and early '90s, was shocked when he heard the club's greatest player had been fired by Fenway Sports Group (FSG) on Wednesday.

Now the former midfielder fears the 'huge gamble' means any momentum built up under Dalglish has been lost and the club risk going backwards. Hodgson was sacked in January 2011 after six months in charge, fans never taking to a man they felt was not a big enough name for their storied club.

'Hodgson was on a bit of a hiding to nothing because Kenny's name was always mentioned, so when things went wrong the fans wanted Kenny,' said Whelan, who lifted six league titles, two FA Cups, three Carling Cups and the European Cup during 15 years at Anfield.

'With the manner Kenny was sacked, I think it'll be exactly the same thing again for whoever comes in - if not even more so this time.'

Whelan is doubtful whether FSG, which owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team, fully understands the esteem in which 'King Kenny' is held on Merseyside - but warned that it would soon find out, if Dalglish's replacement does not deliver instant improvement.

'It's probably the American culture - getting fired there is no stigma so they're probably not thinking about what a big deal sacking Kenny Dalglish is because it's not their culture and it's not their country. But if things start to go wrong for the next manager, they'll fully understand the feeling of Liverpool fans then.'

Dalglish's sacking completed a purge that saw director of football Damien Comolli, plus the head of sports science and the director of communications, also fired.

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has been given permission to speak to the club, while a host of other names including Norwich's Paul Lambert, Guus Hiddink, former coach Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas, Fabio Capello and Pep Guardiola have been linked to the job.

But Guardiola is believed to be uninterested, favouring a sabbatical after leaving Barcelona; Roma have moved first for Villas-Boas; Capello is believed to prefer Chelsea; and, in an indication of Liverpool's diminished reputation, Swansea's Brendan Rodgers flat out rejected an approach to discuss the job.

Whelan, who played under Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Dalglish and Graeme Souness during Liverpool's glory years, insists the new man must be an established winner rather than an up-and-comer.

'People say Martinez did a great job, but did he? He did for the last nine games, he kept them up, but most of the season Wigan were atrocious. I don't think the likes of him, Rodgers, Lambert, people like this, are what Liverpool need - unless the owners really want to go back to the embryonic stage.

'Whoever comes in has got to have that reputation and command the respect of the players and the fans from day one - or else he's going to be up against it.'

Whelan signed for Liverpool days before his 18th birthday in 1979 and made 362 appearances for the club before leaving in 1994. Now a pundit for Irish broadcaster RTE, he still lives just outside the city, golfs regularly with the '80s and '90s greats, and knows the mood of the support.

'A few Liverpool fans said maybe Kenny's not the man for the job, but there's a lot more thinking: 'We're going somewhere. Yes, we haven't been great a lot of times, but we're going somewhere.'

'Is it going to be a Chelsea where they sack managers every six months? You get to two cup finals and get sacked?

'All round the club seemed to be better compared to the [Gerard] Houllier and Benitez days. Whoever comes in is going to have his own ideas and want his own players, so they've taken a huge gamble in getting rid of Dalglish and basically starting again from square one.'

Dalglish was flown out to Boston last week to get the bullet from FSG's Tom Werner and John Henry after the club finished eighth in the league.

The Scot's big-money signings - Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson - largely failed to impress, and he was widely perceived to have mishandled the Luis Suarez racism storm. Even more damning, the team recorded their worst home record since 1953-54.

But they reached two cup finals, winning the Carling Cup and losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and Whelan insists progress was being made.

'I was in a bar in Hong Kong when I heard [about Dalglish's sacking] and I was hugely surprised, especially with the way it was done,' said the Irishman, in town as a speaker at Football Club's Sportsman's Dinner and a guest of the HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens.

'Why would you fly him out to Boston just to tell him he's fired? It's lethal. But that just seems to be the way they work.

'The league form was abysmal at times, Kenny would admit that. But those lads [the new players] have had a season now and they know what it's like to play for a big football club. Newcastle's not as big as Liverpool - Sunderland, Blackpool, Aston Villa aren't as big as Liverpool - and I think they've struggled with the size of the job they've come into.

'But now they've had a year of it, Henderson, Carroll, Downing and they know the pressure and they know that you can't be as inconsistent as they have been this season.

'You go back to Fergie [Alex Ferguson] at Manchester United, who built this great football club, but he didn't win anything for the first few years - Kenny should have been given time and now all that momentum's been stopped.'