Barnes warms to the magic with Dalglish back in hot seat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am

There's a sense of familiarity about it: Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish makes up for the loss of his top striker by bringing in new, younger recruits.

The 2011 scenario at Anfield with Fernando Torres replaced by Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll also played out in 1987 during Dalglish's first spell in charge of the Reds. Ian Rush was departing for Juventus so John Barnes and Peter Beardsley came in to bolster the attacking options.

The move reaped immediate rewards as Liverpool won the old first division by nine points in the 1987-88 season with both Barnes and Beardsley in starring roles, alongside John Aldridge, who had been recruited six months earlier. But the Reds fell short of collecting the double after Aldridge missed a penalty in a shock 1-0 loss to Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup final.

It was the tail end of Liverpool's dominant period, which yielded another three major trophies in the next four years. Barnes would go on to score 84 goals in 314 league games for the club, while Beardsley netted 46 times in 131 matches.

Working as a pundit on Asian satellite television during Liverpool's week of change, Barnes could see the parallels between the two eras, although in 2011 there is no chance that 59-year-old Dalglish will make the occasional contribution as a player as he did during his first spell in charge. His final Liverpool appearance came in May 1990 when he was 39.

'Suarez is a fantastic signing and while Carroll is a bit of a gamble it does show the intent of the owners to put money into the club,' Barnes, 47, said. 'That is the most significant factor because Liverpool really needed to take care of the attacking side of things.

'It was a little different in 1987 because Beardsley was the record signing and I'd played 30 times for England so we were both at the top of our game coming in. Carroll is still unproven, even though he could be the future England number nine for many years to come.'

In the 1987-88 season, Liverpool won their 17th title from a rejuvenated Manchester United - under Alex Ferguson. In the same way that his fellow Scotsman cultivates team spirit and unifies the fans, Dalglish has everyone on Merseyside singing off the same hymn sheet. It is almost inconceivable that the Reds, who were so disjointed under Roy Hodgson, now have a realistic chance to book a Champions League spot.

'What Kenny has done is steady the ship, make Liverpool more consistent and maximised the team's potential,' Barnes said. 'They will finish in the top six this season, be it fourth, fifth or sixth. But he's not a magician and we're not going to go and automatically win every game. There's still a long way to go but things are a lot better with Kenny in charge.'

After the pivotal victory away to champions Chelsea last Sunday, senior players including Dirk Kuyt and Jamie Carragher hinted they wanted the caretaker manager to be given the job on a long-term basis. Even though he is less hands-on than most of his peers, Dalglish seems to have no problems inspiring his squad. 'Kenny doesn't do the coaching - he's brought in Steve Clarke to do that - but he's very intelligent when he speaks,' said Barnes, a former manager with Celtic, Tranmere Rovers and Jamaica. 'He knows how to set up his team and he knows how to get the best out of his players.

'Man management is very important, particularly these days when you have so much player power. When Kenny says the same thing as Roy Hodgson they're more likely to listen because of the aura surrounding him.'

The superb form of midfielder Raul Meireles since Dalglish's arrival is one indication of just how man management makes all the difference. Having failed to find the net in his first 21 appearances for the club, the 27-year-old Portugal international has scored four times in his last five games, including the winner at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Ironically, Meireles was signed by Hodgson in August from Porto for GBP11.5 million (HK$144 million).

Joe Cole is another Hodgson recruit the Kop hopes will turn around his fortunes under Dalglish. Despite being described as 'better than [Lionel] Messi' by captain Steven Gerrard, Cole was sent off on his league debut, missed a penalty in his next match and has made only 11 appearances in an injury-plagued season.

But compared with the clubs sitting in the top four - Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea - Liverpool's squad still has a moderate, workmanlike look. With Carragher turning 33 last month, the Reds could soon be in search of defensive reinforcements at the very least.

'They definitely need defenders - they need a left back and a centre-back,' Barnes said. 'Carragher is an excellent servant but he's not going to last forever. [Daniel] Agger is very good but I'm not sure about [Martin] Skrtel and [Sotirios] Kyrgiakos. And we could also do with a little more creativity in midfield.'

Midway through his decade with Liverpool, Barnes noticed how a change in managers altered the relationship between the club and the legendary Kop.

After Dalglish stepped down in 1991, his successor Graeme Souness soon became unpopular with the fans after poor transfer dealings were blamed on a sharp decline in the club's fortunes.

'I know from my playing days that if the fans are booing the manager it goes onto the field and affects the players no matter how much they love the club. But now they're 100 per cent behind Kenny which means we're heading in the right direction.'

So, just as in 1987 when Barnes was dazzling down the left wing, Liverpool are united as they put a depressing chapter behind them and dare to dream again.