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Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Rebuilding Liverpool a huge task for Dalglish


LONDON — Different manager, same old results.

Christopher Davies

If Kenny Dalglish had any doubts about the size of the task he faces in his second coming as Liverpool manager, the 2-1 defeat at Blackpool coming three days after the 1-0 loss at Manchester United would have made him realize the problems are bigger than they seemed from his previous role as ambassador.

It was the 2-1 defeat at Anfield in October that prompted the first public show of dissent against Roy Hodgson, who was sacked when new owner John W. Henry gave the fans what they wanted — Dalglish.

Whether it's Hodgson, Dalglish or Jose Mourinho, it will take at least three years for Liverpool to become realistic title contenders again. The Reds have lost 10 of their 21 league games, including six of the last nine, and are four points above the relegation zone.

On Sunday, they face the mother of all Merseyside derbies, with Everton licking its lips in anticipation of giving Dalglish an 0-3 start with its first league double over its rivals since 1985.

Dalglish knows there is no instant fix, so does Liverpool's three biggest assets: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Will it be happy to be part of a team in transition with the League Cup and F.A. Cup their only genuine targets?

The Scot is in charge until the end of the season but he wants to stay on full-time. It will be interesting to see the yardstick by which the new owners judge Dalglish because it is difficulty to assess what success would be for Liverpool.

A top 10 finish, maybe, a position unthinkable not too long ago.

The popular decision will be to extend Dalglish's stay because in the eyes of the Anfield faithful King Kenny can do no wrong. Though four or five further defeats in the coming weeks would force a reluctant rethink.

Alternatives such as Frank Rijkaard may prove difficult because of the work that needs to be done with the squad. Managing Liverpool is not the attractive job it used to be.

Defensively Liverpool is not so much poor as porous. It is leaking goals and Dalglish will ask for funds to sign at least two new players in the January transfer window.

How much the American owners allow him to spend will be seen as significant to Dalglish's long-term prospects.

Meanwhile, Blackpool continues to confound the critics and probably itself. Ian Holloway's team has been not so much a breath of fresh air as a hurricane. It has attacked the Premier League, literally with two wingers in Elliott Grandin and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, while Charlie Adam has established himself as one of the most effective midfielders in the top flight.

* * * * *

RYAN BABEL is not a person who seems to learn from his mistakes.

A year ago, the Liverpool forward was disciplined by then-manager Rafael Benitez after stating on his Twitter page that he had been dropped for the game against Stoke. The Holland international was fined a reported £60,000 by the club.

Earlier this week, Babel was charged by the Football Association after posting on Twitter a mock photo of referee Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt. Babel added the comment "and they call him one of the best referees. That's a joke."

Last Sunday, Webb awarded United a penalty (soft but justifiable) and sent off Steven Gerrard (a nailed-on red card).

Needless to say, Liverpool disagreed with both decisions. Equally predictable was the response of Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, who commented:

"Where's our sense of humor gone in our game?"

It is not funny for a player to question, even humorously, the impartiality of a referee.

The F.A. was right to charge Babel, it is just a shame it allows hatchet men to get away with on-field violence, hiding behind some non-existent FIFA rule.

* * * * *

THE FOOTBALL Association occasionally charges managers and players for abusing match officials. Yet what they say remains private.

Why should the public not be told (with asterisks replacing certain words) what was said?

I believe that if those who insult and swear at referees would be deterred if they knew what they said would come into the public domain.

Rugby referees are miked so when they speak to players we never hear the sort of industrial language their football counterparts receive.

I'm not sure if football should go that far, but if the football authorities showed more transparency and told supporters what offenders have said, we would see more respect for match officials.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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