by Adam Bate
What a return it has been for Kenny Dalglish. Only Cardiff City now stand in the way of Liverpool lifting the Carling Cup at Wembley later this month and thus securing the club’s first trophy in six years. King Kenny has brought the buzz back to the city. And thankfully, whatever the dramas off the field, everyone at Anfield appears to be pulling in the same direction once again.
It’s a far cry from January of last year when Liverpool were languishing in twelfth place in the Premier League under beleaguered boss Roy Hodgson. The subsequent return of the Messiah saw the team swept forward on a wave of optimism and invention that brought 10 wins in 14 games – a run that took Liverpool to the brink of a fifth place finish.
One might think it would be regarded as something of a disappointment then, that the club currently finds itself seventh in the Premier League. Has progress already reached a plateau? That’s an alarming thought given Liverpool’s 2011 spending spree of £110million. As ESPN’s Michael Cox puts it: “Failing to match last season’s performance after considerable spending on players in the summer would prompt serious questions from outside Liverpool about Kenny Dalglish’s future.”
Of course, those questions are unlikely to come from within. Liverpool fans will point to the money recouped from the sales of Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles. Others maintain this level of spending should not bring with it unattainable expectations of glory. Tony Evans, chief football writer for the Times and Liverpool fan, explains: “Spending £100 million should bring instant top-four success, goes the logic, as if it were that simple. Some cannot see that … Tottenham Hotspur have leapfrogged the five-times European champions.”
Evans is quite correct to say that some could not see this. It has certainly proved news to the notoriously unsentimental bookmakers who considered Liverpool 10/1 shots for the title, while making Tottenham the 66/1 sixth favourites. Meanwhile, the assessment of the experts at the BBC could scarcely have been more emphatic in backing Liverpool’s chances of cracking the top four.
In the BBC’s summer predictions for the season, 23 of 31 pundits tipped Liverpool for a top four finish. Mark Bright, seemingly convinced by the Merseyside club’s oft-cited advantage of not facing European distractions, even went so far as to predict Liverpool would be champions come May. “The Reds have four players who could grace any team in the Premier League: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll,” claimed Bright.
Oh Carroll. Some supporters sought solace in the ‘Torres less £15million’mind-trick. That remains a theory from the same school of thought that if someone pays £5 for your bag of Maltesers then you’ll happily cough up £3.50 for a Curly Wurly. In truth, he is a one-man conundrum – the catalyst for countless theories searching for some kind of Moneyball method behind Liverpool’s spending madness. After all, there had to be something we were missing when more than £50million was thrown at Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, right?
Time will tell. And there is plenty to be said for a happy fan base. But, from the outside at least, Evans’ claim that Dalglish’s potential Carling Cup success may “come to be seen as his greatest achievement,” appears rooted as much in wish fulfilment as anything approaching the reality of Liverpool’s season so far.