Possibly the worst kept secret in Premier League football was exposed on Thursday as Kenny Dalglish finally became permanent manager of his beloved Liverpool FC, signing a richly deserved three year contract to the delight of owners and supporters alike.
His new contract is a just reward for the legendary Scot, who has steered the club through some turbulent times and now appears to be leading Liverpool back to the golden shores of European football and, whisper it quietly, a title challenge next season.
The very notion of competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal for next season’s Premier League title seemed illogical bordering on the delusional during the dark days of Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated and mercifully short reign, when the looming jaws of a humiliating relegation dog fight appeared likely as the Reds shamefully filled the relegation places at their lowest ebb.
However, under the guidance of Dalglish the Reds have improved immeasurably, providing both style and substance while escalating the table and entertaining the Anfield faithful in what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and productive second half of the season.
The traditional pass and move, free flowing style of football promoted by the Liverpool Way and followed faithfully for so many years has now returned after being fatally ignored by Hodgson. Attacking, enterprising and entertaining football is the norm once again and an abundance of goals has encouragingly resulted, with the Reds netting 35 goals during Dalglish’s time in charge, more than any other side in the League over the same period.
This newfound focus on forward thinking football has not been to the detriment of defensive stability though. In fact, Liverpool have conceded only 14 goals since the King returned in January, with only Chelsea possessing a measlier backline.
Consequently, it comes as no surprise to learn that former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke, who worked alongside Jose Mourinho, has been massively influential in improving our defensive display, providing expertise and crucial tactical knowledge to remove avoidable errors and re-build the previously eroded foundation of any successful side; a solid back four.
Crucially, a change in tactics and footballing philosophy has been accompanied by an unmistakable lift in morale and confidence within the squad. The players now want to play for the manager, unlike under Hodgson, whose lack of popularity in the dressing room was reflected tellingly in the performances on the pitch.
Enjoyable training sessions’, backing in the pressroom and an emphasis on togetherness and unity has raised spirits considerably at Anfield. The confidence and belief engendered in the squad by Dalglish has contributed to an improvement in results and the emergence of a winning mentality.
The oft-quoted proverb, “Winning breeds winning” has rung emphatically true for Liverpool, with the Merseysiders currently embarking on an unbeaten run that stretches back to the start of April. As the season approaches a conclusion the Reds are in sensational form, which should hopefully translate into a quick start to the next campaign.
With FSG promising to invest significantly in the summer and a batch of quality youngsters knocking on the door of the first team, the future is undeniably bright for the Reds. Perhaps most importantly, the unity that the return of Dalglish has brought has created a cohesive team with the best interests of the club at heart.
No longer do we have warring, money-hungry owners snapping in the background. No longer do we have a clearly inept manager determined to make us the relegation candidates he clearly thought we were. No longer is the Kop divided between those who support the manager and those who don't.
Dalglish's return to the Anfield managerial hot seat has brought success on the pitch, harmony between the boardroom and the footballing staff and, above all else, a united Kop ready to concentrate fully on supporting the team, rather than protesting against greedy owners or calling for the manager's head.
The change from caretaker to King could be one of the most important moves in Liverpool's history.