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As the Liverpool team celebrated their Carling Cup victory on the Wembley pitch last Sunday, manager Kenny Dalglish was also celebrating another, lesser known accomplishment. The win over Cardiff helped further seal Dalglish’s place in the annals of football history, as he joins a group of just six other managers who have led their teams to League, FA Cup and League Cup victories.
In typical fashion, however, ‘King Kenny’ was quick to divert the attentions from himself and onto his players. He then went onto state that this ‘is just the beginning’ for the club, and that he believes a large upturn in their fortune is just around the corner, with this trophy helping to inspire his players onto even bigger things.
The goal for the club this season has to be making it into the top four, and reaping the benefits that qualifying for the Champions League has to offer. Not only is it a highly substantial source of income, it also makes the club significantly more attractive to prospective transfer targets, come the end of the current season. Even with the clubs’ relatively poor form in the 1990’s, it remains almost unthinkable that a team of the caliber of Liverpool would not present in any European competition this season.
It is vital that they bounce back quickly, in order to retain their status as one of the elite teams in Europe. That is not to say that the club should neglect the FA Cup in any way, as a cup double would be fantastic for the players and fans alike. A return to the Champions League would arguably be far more beneficial to the club in the long term.
Whilst the glory days may be a fair way away, roll the clock back 18 months and every single Liverpool fan could only have dreamed of the success enjoyed by the club. The club was then owned by American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett, with the pair almost damaging the club to the point of no return, and helped in no small part by the management of Roy Hodgson.
It is perhaps unfair to lay so much blame on Hodgson, who was shown little financial backing by Hicks and Gillett, and was unable to sculpt the team into one which he was comfortable working with. Hicks and Gillett’s tenure at the club was marred in controversy, with the owners failing to make good on promises to build a new stadium, and allowing a dispute between themselves to boil over and affect their ability to run the club.
Effectively, the once great club was poised to fall into a position of mid-table obscurity, had it not been for two shining lights on the horizon: John W. Henry and Dalglish.
The former took control of the club from Hicks and Gillett, and immediately set about restoring the club to its former glory. Step one was the removal of Hodgson as manager, who was clearly not a good fit for Liverpool, and club legend Dalglish was reinstated. Success in almost all sports can be attributed to doing the right thing at the right time, and while this is obviously vital in football, there is perhaps an even more critical ingredient: passion.
Dalglish has this quality in abundance, and combined with a high level of tactical astuteness and unparalleled management skills, he has already set about saving the club he loves, from falling into obscurity.
Many fans could be forgiven for falling in love with the fairytale return of their hero, and for bestowing all accolades on him, but the influence of Henry cannot be underestimated. Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team, has put his money where his mouth is, backing Dalglish extensively in the transfer market, with Kenny in return strengthening what was a very thin Liverpool squad.
He has also assured fans that he is looking into the stadium issue, and has resolved that if Anfield cannot be expanded to the level where they can compete with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United in terms of attendance, then a new stadium will be built to ensure the future competitiveness of the club.
The club is certainly moving in the right direction, and clearly has an owner with a passion for the club, evident by his emphatic celebrations at Wembley on Sunday, as he witnessed the club lift their first trophy of his tenure. If Dalglish can lead the club to the Champions League this season, there is a real feeling that it is only a matter of time before Liverpool is once again competing for a title. With the right additions to the squad this could even be a reality by next season.
However, should Liverpool fail to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, the process could be put back a season or two, with Henry unlikely to back Dalglish with the same kind of financing, should they only be competing in the Europa League. Nothing, of course, can be taken for granted in football, and winning the Carling Cup may have given Henry a taste for success.
The owner may be willing to pump more money into the club regardless of the Champions League situation. What can be said for certain, is that the club is back on the up, and that their status as one of the elite clubs of Europe seems fairly solidified with Dalglish and Henry at the reins.