The departure of Kenny Dalglish from Liverpool after a disappointing season in the Premier League invites a question that can only be answered in time. Should Dalglish’s second spell in charge at Anfield be remembered as steadying of the ship after a turbulent few years, or the squandering of an opportunity to return to the club to past glories?
Dalglish will forever be a legend almost beyond comparison at Liverpool. The successes first as a player in the 1980s and then as manager later in the decade and into the early 90s, and the supreme dignity with which Dalglish faced the tragedy of Hillsborough and its aftermath ensure Dalglish’s standing. One below-par season, in the context of Dalglish’s past with the club, cannot alter that. But at the same time history cannot inure Dalglish from criticism, and nor, as the decision of Fenway Sports Group to terminate Dalglish’s contract shows, was it enough to convince the club’s decision-makers Liverpool’s future was in safe hands.
The best measure of a team’s performance over the course of a season is the final league table, and it is not a picture that makes positive viewing for Liverpool. Eighth, 37 points adrift of the top two, 17 points off the top four and with 14 defeats in 38 games, 2011-12 was not a vintage year for Liverpool. Yet by many more detailed statistics, Liverpool actually improved from the year before. Average possession went from 51% to 55% and pass success increased from 77% to 80%. To confirm that the extra passes also had an end product, Liverpool also recorded more than two extra shots per game. But goals did not flow from the shots, with 15 fewer being scored, although defensively Liverpool were slightly more sound, conceding four fewer.
What can be gleaned from the bare statistics? That Liverpool’s numbers picked up year on year but their league placing fell suggests two things – first, that Liverpool’s improvement was less than the teams around them, and that while the team as a whole may have performed slightly better, individuals did not. One player alone reaching double figures in the league – Luis Suarez, scorer of 11 goals – is not the kind of potency on which a Champions League push can be built – Tottenham Hotspur, fourth, had three players into double figures and another with nine strikes to his name, while Newcastle United finished with an extra 19 points than last season, a massive improvement, having spent a fraction of the sum splurged by Liverpool.
Getting the most out of your expenditure is a key facet of every club’s strategy, and whether or not Liverpool have done that may well depend on whether you take a short or long-term view. But Dalglish has paid the price for the results of the last 10 months, having arrested the slide that was underway when he originally replaced Roy Hodgson. Dalglish however was unable to keep Liverpool on an even keel, and that will be the task facing whoever is appointed in his place.
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