x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Liverpool are prisoners of Kenny Dalglish's legacy

Last season's errors of judgment are threatening to derail the start of the Brendan Rodgers era.

Liverpool have made their worst start to a league season since 1962/63. Peter Powell / EPA
Liverpool have made their worst start to a league season since 1962/63. Peter Powell / EPA

Nostalgia is a fabric of everyday life at Liverpool. No club looks back as frequently or as fondly.

Every game can seem to provide a memory or a milestone and Sunday would have been the 99th birthday of Bill Shankly, the founding father of English football's most enduring and most eulogised dynasty.

After Arsenal had provided the perfect illustration of the passing football Brendan Rodgers wants to introduce at Anfield, complete with clinical finishing and defiant defending, there was another reason to remember Shankly.

By taking a solitary point from their first three games, Liverpool made their worst start to a season since 1962/63, Shankly's first in the top flight.

A week before, the statistic doing the rounds was that, were his side to lose to Manchester City, Rodgers would become the first Liverpool manager to be defeated in his opening two league games since Shankly. They drew 2-2.

History is a constant reference point, yet it is not because of the 18 league titles and five European Cups that Liverpool are prisoners of the past. It is not Shankly's legacy that is impeding Rodgers. It is Kenny Dalglish's.

Friday's failure to sign a forward before the transfer deadline closed already threatens to come at a cost, both to Liverpool's season and to the relationship Rodgers has with owners Fenway Sports Group. Should the out-of-contract Michael Owen return to Anfield as a stopgap striker, desperate times will have brought a desperate measure.

Thursday's decision to let Andy Carroll join West Ham United on loan - then described as "a strategic decision" by Rodgers - set off a train of events that left Liverpool looking foolish 24 hours later.

FSG's refusal to pay Fulham's £6 million (Dh35m) asking price for Clint Dempsey may be explained by the American's 29 years but it left the owners looking short-sighted and the squad short of goals.

In an open letter to supporters yesterday, John W Henry, the principal owner, spoke of his reluctance to indulge in "expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years".

The American also said: "We are still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes."

Yet the greater problem in their transfer dealings dates back to 2011 or, as Henry diplomatically phrased it: "It has been compounded by our own mistakes in a difficult first two years of ownership."

They hoped to fund the new manager's rebuilding by releasing the equity in their squad but Dalglish's expensive mistakes are hard to sell. They are the hospital pass given to the promoter of perpetual possession.

Between them, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing cost around £80m. Were Liverpool to recoup half of that now, they would be delighted. Adam is gone, sold to Stoke for £4m but at a sizeable loss. The others remain on the books though, in Carroll's case, not at Anfield.

It was a damning indictment of a £120m spending spree that Luis Suarez was the only Dalglish buy to start against Arsenal. Yet, while many a manager comes in and begins his regime with a purge of his predecessors' players, it is not merely Rodgers that does not rate the Scot's signings. Neither do many of his counterparts.

Carroll at least has his admirers; he does not suit the style Rodgers likes to play but, though never worth £35m, can be an asset in more direct teams, as he showed on his West Ham debut.

Unwanted elsewhere, Downing and Henderson linger at Liverpool, the winger becoming one of the world's costliest left-backs against Hearts in the Europa League and the midfielder relegated below Jonjo Shelvey in the pecking order, a player who arrived for a tenth of his price.

Anfield's favourite scapegoat, the sacked director of football Damien Comolli, paid hugely excessive fees but the initial fault lies with those who identified them as Liverpool players. Joe Allen's assured start to life at Anfield indicates that the judgement of Rodgers is altogether surer but financial restrictions have inhibited him.

The reality is that, while money has been in short supply since 2009, Liverpool managers have had two windfalls, first from the sale of Fernando Torres and then from FSG's summer 2011 injection of cash. Both were wasted. They have now veered from extravagance to austerity without settling on a happy medium. Resources are rationed along with choices available to Rodgers. There are few outside his starting 11 he seems to trust - and, given the lack of players, not too many that he doesn't, either - with a 17-year-old veteran of two league starts already seeming an automatic choice.

Circumstances have made Raheem Sterling pivotal, along with Fabio Borini. Suarez, never exactly insignificant, is still more important. An injury to the Uruguayan and Liverpool's season could be over before it begins.

Yet ambition is a constant at Anfield. "It drives every decision," Henry said. "We will build and grow from within, buy prudently and cleverly and never again waste resources on inflated transfer fees and unrealistic wages."

They are laudable aims but, should a shortage of strikers or goals leave Liverpool marooned in mid-table, they may not assuage the American's critics or make Rodgers's job easier. Because, without spending at the end of the transfer window, Liverpool are still paying for their past.


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