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The Kenny Dalglish story - end of an era

Dalglish strengthened the defence with the Swede Glenn Hysen and decided to start with Aldridge on the bench in the beginning of the 1989-90 season. Dropping Aldridge in favour of Ian Rush seemed to be a strange decision since Aldridge had scored 20 goals in the last 22 games. Liverpool started this season on a winning note as it had finished the last. The Reds won 8 out of their first 11 games and drew 3 times. Crystal Palace was beaten 9-0 as Liverpool broke the record for the most goals in a match in the top league. Liverpool had lost only one game out of 36 from 3rd of January to 14th of October. But they lost 4 out of the next 5 games. Aldridge was unhappy on the bench and accepted an offer from Real Sociedad in Spain. Rush had scored 6 goals in 14 games. The supporters couldn’t understand how Dalglish could let a goalscorer like John Aldridge leave Anfield. But Liverpool returned on track and by mid-April it became clear that either Aston Villa or Liverpool would be the champions. Liverpool had a one point lead when the Israeli Ronny Rosenthal came on loan from Standard Liege in Belgium. He scored 7 goals in 8 games and Liverpool was the champion for the 18th time and Dalglish the Manager of the year for the third time in five years. Dalglish hadn’t picked himself for the team on a regular basis since October 1986. The player Kenny Dalglish finally played his last game for Liverpool when he came on as a substitute against Derby in the penultimate game of the season. One of the greatest players in the history of football had finally retired after playing a total of 835 games and as the most successful player in the history of the British Isles.

Liverpool started the 1990-91 season well and won their first eight league games with the goal difference of 19-5, including a 4-0 win over Man Utd. They drew 1-1 against Norwich but then kept on going and won 4 league games in a row. Liverpool had a 8 point lead over Arsenal at the top. Liverpool conceded a late equaliser against Man City in a 2-2 draw and the press had a go at them. It didn’t seem to be a fair criticism of the team that had only dropped 2 points in middle of November. But the fans were also ruthless. Liverpool’s success had taken its toll. Many of the fans didn’t remember Liverpool other than crushing their opponent one way or the other. The Kop went quiet and the visiting fans sang "You’re supposed to be at home". Liverpool played Arsenal, which had lost its last game 2-6 to Man Utd, next and everyone expected Liverpool to attack as usual.But Dalglish surprised everyone by not including the club's top goalscorer, Peter Beardsley, in the squad and using a defensive formation to protect the lead at the top anyway he could. But Dalglish’s system of play didn’t work this time. Liverpool experienced their biggest loss in over a year, 0-3 and the media blamed one man. Dalglish refused to take responsibility and blamed the players for the result. Everyone who knew Dalglish were surprised that he had criticized his players in public, as he was always saying that it was the worst thing a manager could do to his players. After a 0-1 loss against Crystal Palace on the 30th of December the press was full of criticism of Dalglish’s doings.

It's fair to say that the press went over the top in their critique, because Liverpool had only lost three games at the turn of the year and were on the top of the league. But Dalglish knew his players were getting old. Gillespie was 31 and Beardsley, Nicol, McMahon, Whelan and Rush almost 30. Good young players were breaking through to the first team, but Fowler and McManaman were turning 16 and 19 that season respectively. Dalglish had established a powerful youth system in his first year in charge as manager and hired Heighway to run the project but none of the youngsters were quite up to it yet. Dalglish bought a young and promising lad from Bournemouth Jamie Redknapp in the new year and then winger Jimmy Carter from Millwall. The fans soon realised that Carter wasn’t in the Liverpool standard. They had been knocked out of the Rumbelows Cup and twice won narrowly against teams from the second division in the FA Cup. David Speedie was signed but many believed the 31 year old Scotsman was too old but his signing served its purpose in stopping the decline of the team. He scored in a 1-1 draw against Man Utd and two in a 3-1 win over Everton. Liverpool was drawn against Everton in the FA Cup at Anfield. The teams drew 1-1. Football expert Jimmy Hill wasn’t impressed: "They aren’t showing stability. The great technical players that used to be in the Liverpool midfield are probably turning in their graves seeing this average players of today".

Everywhere Dalglish turned there was criticism. Three days later 37,000 attended Goodison Park to see the second leg. The game was a treat to the fans but agonising for Dalglish. Liverpool took the lead four times but Everton equalised every time, 4-4 draw was the result. The Liverpool dressing room wasn’t a joyful place to be in after the game. Ronnie Moran told the player off like only he could do and the players argued among themselves. The outfield players told off the defence and you could hear the yelling out in the hallway. One man on the other hand stood there quiet by the dressing room wall and stared in front of himself. The next morning Dalglish attended a meeting that was held every month with the Liverpool board, the president Noel White and the chairman Peter Robinson. They talked about the events the day before and twenty minutes into the meeting Dalglish looked up and said: "I’m going to resign as Liverpool manager." White and Robinson stared at each other and thought that they had misheard but Dalglish was certain. He complained about being tired and the stress he felt before games was becoming unbearable and he felt like his head was exploding. He had thought about quitting at the end of the season before, but decided to continue in spite of obvious signs of stress. But Dalglish was about to surprise his mates more: "I want to leave now, today". White and Robinson had assumed he was going to quit after the season and asked if he had received a better offer from somewhere else but he refused and said he couldn’t take this any longer. He often had headaches and was getting rashes all over his body and wanted to quit before his health became even a worse enemy. Dalglish wanted out and nobody could talk him out of it.

22nd of February 1991 turned out to be a day to remember in the history of Liverpool. At 11 o’clock in the morning there was a press conference at Anfield. Nobody suspected what it was about. Most thought that John Barnes was on his way to Italy since there had been a persistent rumour about it in the press for weeks. Others thought that Liverpool might have bought some star player and the enthusiasm was high. One reporter joked about it and said that Dalglish was probably going to resign after the 4-4 draw with Everton earlier. The reporters smiled, then suddenly everyone got quiet. Liverpool chairman, Noel White, entered the room. After him came Peter Robinson, Sir John Smith the former president of Liverpool, two board members and finally Kenny Dalglish, looking pale. Noel White started speaking right away: "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I’m going to read a short statement: With great regret I have to say that Kenny Dalglish has requested to the board of Liverpool to resign as manager." Silence in the room. Nobody seemed to understand what he had just said. Everyone turned to the Scot. Dalglish spoke: "This is the first time since I came to the club that I take the interest of Kenny Dalglish over Liverpool Football Club. This is not a sudden decision. The worst I could have done was not to decide. One could argue that this decision hadn’t come at a good time but there is no good time in cases like this. The main problem is the pressure I put on myself because of my strong desire to succeed. The stress that comes right before and after games has got the better of me. Some might have difficulty understanding my decision but this decision stands. I would be betraying everyone if I wouldn’t let them know there is something wrong. I have been involved with football since I was 17. Twenty years with the two most successful teams in Britain, Celtic and Liverpool. I’ve been at the front all these years and it time to end it." Dalglish stopped speaking. The reporters asked the board members few questions which revealed that Ronnie Moran had been asked to take over and that Dalglish had quit in spite of heavy protest from the board yet there was mutual consent about it. They then went out of the room as quickly as they had enter a few minutes before.

Liverpool was in turmoil this day, the news spread quickly, people in the street thought the press was playing a joke on them when they stopped them in the street and told them the news. Everyone thought about the reason for him resigning. Liverpool was at the top of the league and still in the cup and nothing seemed to be wrong with the team. At the Lime Street train station in Liverpool the announcer read the typical announcements about the delays of the train but this day he did things a bit differently and said: "Kenny Dalglish has resigned as Liverpool manager, I just thought you’d like to know that," he then said apologetically. This reminded some of when Shankly had resigned in 1974 where the announcement came unexpected. Another Liverpool legend had gone from Anfield.


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