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Why canny Kenny is still top man for the Kop.

Byline: Oliver Holt

WHEN Kenny Dalglish first managed Liverpool, he fought valiantly against the fading of their great domination of English football.

So valiantly, in fact, no one noticed it had been lost until he left. It has fallen to him to try to recapture Liverpool's crown 20 years on.

Set against that historical context, it is probably the biggest job in the English game.

Some have started to doubt him.

The Luis Suarez T-shirts his players wore didn't help. The one Dalglish wore himself helped even less.

Then there's the way Andy Carroll is playing. And Stewart Downing. And Jordan Henderson. All of them his signings.

There are the uneven results, the home draws with Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn and Stoke.

And most recently, the startling capitulation at Bolton.

The doubts redoubled then. 'Kenny's stuck in his ways,' people said. 'Game's moved on. Too long away from management. Shortterm appointment anyway.' I even saw a few Liverpool fans saying they just wanted to finish in a respectable position at the end of the season so Dalglish could leave with his head held high.

I don't agree with that thinking. I don't see Dalglish as a short-term appointment, whether he was the owners' first choice or not.

I didn't hear anybody saying he was out of touch when he outthought Andre Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge this season.

Nor when he produced the tactical masterclass that surprised Carlo Ancelotti in west London the season before.

And let's not forget Liverpool were playing plenty of encouraging football until their best players this season, Lucas and Suarez, were taken away.

There is no point pretending Carroll, Downing and Henderson have been successful signings. They haven't. Not yet.

But there is every reason to think Downing and Henderson, in particular, will come good. Next season is the time to judge them.

In the meantime, Liverpool sit seventh in the Premier League, only six points off a Champions League spot. And tonight, they take a 1-0 lead into their Carling Cup semifinal, second leg with Manchester City at Anfield.

If they draw or win, they will be back at Wembley for the first time in 16 years and hot favourites to lift their first silverware since 2006.

The tie is one half of a big week for Dalglish. On Saturday, Manchester United visit Anfield for an FA Cup fourth round tie.

It will be the first time the sides have met since their Premier League clash at Anfield on October 15 when Suarez was found to have racially abused Patrice Evra.

Dalglish handled the aftermath of that inflammatory situation poorly - but not as poorly as owner John W Henry and executives Tom Werner and Ian Ayre.

It is part of Dalglish's job to defend his players, to try to ensure they are motivated and they feel appreciated.

T h at doesn't make the way he acted right but it is the job of men like Henry, Werner and Ayre to see the bigger picture.

It was up to them to see the damage the club's stance was causing and to do something about it. They did nothing.

Many still seek to blame Dalglish for the Suarez debacle. They say no one at the club dare stand up to him.

They say the owners are scared of him because without Dalglish, what do they become? Just another set of American owners trying to make a buck? That is hardly f Dalglish's fault, though. It is not his fault he has a powerful emotional bond with the supporters.

It is not his fault, either, he earned their loyalty and respect through his outstanding record as player and manager and through the great dignity and steadfastness he showed in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster.

For those reasons, many find the idea of offering even mild criticism of Dalglish an anathema.

I understand that sentiment. I share some of it. But there are other reasons to lay off Dalglish.

This is a transitional season for Liverpool, as he has moved to lower the age of his first team.

There are good young players like Martin Kelly and John Flanagan coming through and Steven Gerrard is returning to full fitness. Suarez will be back next month, too, of course. Maybe then the wounds will start to heal.

If Liverpool can get past City tonight, their season will regain momentum and purpose.

And there will be a wider acceptance that, given time, Dalglish is the man to steer the club back towards the summit where once
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Title Annotation:Sport; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2012
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