20 April ~ When Kenny Dalglish resigned as Liverpool manager in 1991, one supporter took a philosophical view in WSC 50
"Couldn't take the pressure." As a Liverpool fan, watching Kenny Dalglish as a manager was the antithesis of watching him as a player. People often complain about players or officials who don't care about a particular club; the problem (?) with Dalglish as a manager was that he so obviously cared. You couldn't miss it: that furrowed brow, the nervous pacing, the clenched fist held against the mouth. Dalglish suffered as much anguish as any fan.
What a contrast between the stock images of Dalglish the player and Dalglish the manager: the image the press love and repeatedly use of Dalglish the player is the broad grin, arms held up in triumph, that accompanied the title-winning goal against Chelsea in 1985-86. That smile came with every goal, every win; as manager, it was as rare as winning major trophies – we only got to see it once or twice a season.
I know damn well that a football team is not the most important thing in life, that there are far worthier reasons for depression – but wouldn't the world be a better place if the worst thing that could happen to you was that your team lost a Cup Final to Wimbledon, or missed promotion to the Beazer Homes Premier Division by one point? And having entered this world of false triumphs and disasters, few individuals have done more to deserve the adulation of a team's fans than Dalglish. He was the perfect player: clean, skilful, a bundle of joy whose purpose in life seemed to be Liverpool Football Club.
It wasn't until he quit that I realised quite how much pressure he had been under, and for how long. He had not been off the back pages for perhaps sixteen years. Only Brian Clough among fellow managers has been at his club for longer, and he is not managing players he had shared a dressing-room with. While Dalglish has been cavalier with those players he has signed, dropping Aldridge, Beardsley, Houghton, Rosenthal etc. with a logic that defied... well, logic, six of his 1984-85 team-mates were still guaranteed places, if fit, six years later.
In recent months people had talked about the dangers of letting a side grow old – they missed the point. It wasn't just any side that was growing old, it was one full of friends to whom he evidently felt a great deal of loyalty. Of the team at Heysel, only Wark and Walsh have departed for reasons other than retirement or injury. Remember the massive contract Mark Lawrenson got just before his career came to a full stop? Dalglish was, quite simply, too nice to be a manager, or at least a Liverpool manager.
And what of the pressure created by all that endless success? You may laugh, but name me players of comparable stature that have been successful managers. Dalglish had more caps at the beginning of the season than the rest of his First Division colleagues put together. But for Phil Neal's scarcely believable 50, he could have rivalled all the other 91. For Dalglish, anything less than immediate overwhelming success was abject failure on two levels: professional and also personal, because it was a club he cared about, staffed by people he lived with, supported by fans whose respect he had earned.
You see, I am actually pleased that he has quit. Rarely, within the artificial world of football, has an individual done so much for a club for so long a time. When you add on his work in the real world, dealing with the grief of Hillsborough, you get a picture of someone you care about as a person, not just as a footballer. If managing Liverpool made Kenny Dalglish unhappy, then the sooner he quit the better.
His legacy? As well as leaving the team one place higher than when he took over, in buying John Barnes he broke a longheld taboo on Merseyside, Howard Gayle notwithstanding. While it is true that Barnes is partly accepted because of his success and in spite of his colour, he nevertheless represents the possibility of a new beginning. If, in future, the buying of black players is not seen as any kind of issue on Merseyside, then that too will be part of the Dalglish achievement. I mean, what a guy. The white liberal's dream and the ability to turn on the proverbial sixpence.