Kenny Dalglish – Bad luck rather than bad judgement that saw him fail at Newcastle United?
As Manchester United found when Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013, replacing a manager who has enjoyed unprecedented success at a football club is one of the most difficult challenges a team can face.
While he didn’t enjoy the same levels of success as Ferguson, this was the problem Newcastle United faced in January 1997 when Kevin Keegan shocked the football world and resigned after a rollercoaster five years in charge.
Keegan was rightly afforded legendary status for taking the club from the brink of relegation to the third tier of English football, to coming agonisingly close to winning the Premier League title.
After Keegan’s, resignation the job of Newcastle United manager was highly coveted, with an excellent playing squad recently bolstered by the world record signing of Alan Shearer.
Bobby Robson was heavily linked with following in Keegan’s footsteps but was managing Barcelona at the time and felt unable to leave the Nou Camp in the middle of a season.
A new candidate swiftly emerged in the form of Kenny Dalglish and he was announced as Keegan’s successor on 14 January 1997.
Dalglish had previous experience of following in Keegan’s footsteps. As a player he had joined Liverpool from Celtic after Keegan had left Anfield to try his luck with Hamburg in Germany in 1977. The adoring Kop, so devastated by losing Keegan, soon found a new hero in Kenny Dalglish, who would be a key part of three European Cup winning Liverpool sides.
A world class player, Dalglish made a seamless transition to management, initially as player manager, with Liverpool. Dalglish took over from Joe Fagan who had resigned following the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster when 39 Juventus fans lost their lives, a game Liverpool lost 1-0.
The repercussions of that event were severe for Liverpool and English football in general, with English clubs banned from European competition.
Dalglish would manage the Anfield club for nearly six years, winning three league titles and two FA Cups. He would surely have stayed in charge for longer had it not been for the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989. Dalglish later admitted that it took an enormous toll on him and he resigned in February 1991 with the club three points clear at the top of the league and still in the FA Cup.
However, he wouldn’t be out of the game for long and he was appointed manager of Blackburn Rovers in October 1991.
Although in the Second Division at the time the club had recently been bought by Jack Walker, a multi-millionaire with ambitions to challenge the elite of English football.
The recruitment of Kenny Dalglish sent a serious message to the rest of the English game and the Scotsman quickly repaid that faith, leading the club into the Premier League, beating Leicester City 1-0 in the play-off final.
A place at the top table wasn’t going to be enough for Rovers though and they splashed the cash, breaking the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton. Dalglish led them to a fourth place finish during their debut season in the Premier League and followed this up the with a runners-up finish in 1993-94, sandwiched between Premier League winners Manchester United and Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United in third place.
There was just one extra step for Dalglish and Blackburn to take and they did it the following season, pipping Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to the Premier League title on the final day, despite losing to Dalglish’s former side Liverpool. Ferguson’s side could only draw 1-1 with West Ham United with former Newcastle striker Andy Cole missing a host of opportunities.
Lifting the Premier League trophy was the final action of Dalglish’s reign in charge and he moved upstairs to a Director of Football role, eventually leaving the club at the end of the 1995-96 season following a disappointing defence of their Premier League title.
Aside from a brief scouting assignment for Glasgow Rangers, Dalglish remained out of football until his appointment as Keegan’s replacement on a three and a half year deal. He would manage the club for less than two years before being relieved of his duties and it would be a period of huge ups and downs.
His time in charge got off to a bright start. A 10 match unbeaten run at the end of the season, culminating in a 5-0 demolition of Nottingham Forest, which was enough to secure a second consecutive runners-up spot in the Premier League.
However, there was more riding on it than just league position. For the first time, the team finishing in second place would secure a position in the final qualifying round for the UEFA Champions League.
There were big aspirations for the following season. However, this was where the problems would start for the Scot. Newcastle needed to balance the books and the sacrificial lamb was Les Ferdinand, a player very popular with supporters after bagging 50 goals in 84 appearances in the previous two seasons. Jon Dahl Tomasson was signed to replace him and play alongside Alan Shearer.
Unfortunately, just as Ferdinand’s transfer to Tottenham Hotspur was being rubber stamped, Alan Shearer was seriously damaging his ankle in a pre-season friendly. It didn’t help matters that other fan favourites such as Lee Clark, Peter Beardsley, David Ginola and Robbie Elliott were also shown the exit door that summer and replaced by veterans such as Ian Rush, John Barnes and Stuart Pearce.
However, despite the turmoil, Dalglish’s side enjoyed an excellent start to the 1997-98 season, winning five of their first seven league games and progressing to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League following a last gasp winner by Temuri Ketsbaia against Croatia Zagreb.
Having made it to the group stages, Kenny Dalglish oversaw one of the most famous victories in the club’s long history, with an inspired performance from Keith Gillespie and a hat-trick from Faustino Asprilla securing a 3-2 victory against Barcelona in front of a rapturous St James Park.
However, a very poor December undermined the early progress made by Dalglish as his side went eight games without a win in the league and plummeted down the table. The free flowing attacking football of the Keegan era was also notably lacking, with the absence of Shearer, Ferdinand and Beardsley becoming more and more pronounced. Tomasson was struggling to adapt to life in England while Ian Rush was a shadow of the player who terrorised defences during his time at Liverpool.
A similar run followed in February and March, with the side going eight league fixtures without tasting victory.
The one bright spot of the season was the club’s form in the cup competitions as Dalglish set about trying to end Newcastle’s long wait for a trophy. His side progressed to the quarter-finals of the League Cup before losing to Dalglish’s former side Liverpool in extra time and made excellent progress in the FA Cup.
Ian Rush came back to haunt Everton once more, making his only major contribution during his season at the club, scoring the solitary goal at Goodison Park in the 3rd round. After avoiding the potential for huge embarrassment in the fourth round against Stevenage Borough, wins over Tranmere Rovers and Barnsley set up a semi-final at Old Trafford against second tier opposition Sheffield United.
Alan Shearer had made his return from injury at a crucial time of the season with goals proving incredibly hard to come by and it was Shearer who scored the winning goal in a tight 1-0 victory to secure the team’s place at Wembley against Arsenal who were chasing a double.
Unfortunately though, the final was a damp squib with a 2-0 defeat to Arsene Wenger’s side capping off a disappointing season which saw the side drop to 13th place in the league table after consecutive second place finishes.
Despite this Kenny Dalglish remained in the job and it was once again a busy summer transfer window, which included the signings of Dietmar Hamann and Nolberto Solano. An impressive 2-1 victory at St James Park against Italian giants Juventus in a pre-season friendly raised expectations that the good times might be on their way back.
However, a dismal 0-0 draw at home against Charlton got the new season off to a terrible start, and despite a decent performance in securing a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the powers that be at St James Park had seen enough and removed Dalglish from his post.
Despite the disappointing end to Dalglish’s spell as manager there were some positives from his time at the club. Although he made some hugely questionable, and sometimes disastrous, transfer decisions, he also made some excellent signings who would go on to serve the club with some distinction for years after his departure. Players like Nolberto Solano, Gary Speed and Shay Given would provide years of sterling service to the club, while players like Dietmar Hamann and Jon Dahl Tomasson would go on to achieve great success after leaving the club. He also restored the reserve team which had been disbanded by Kevin Keegan and was seen as a crucial pathway for developing young players for the first team.
It should also be recognised that he had incredibly difficult shoes to fill and was under pressure to balance the books after years of spending big on players. Losing Alan Shearer after sanctioning the sale of Les Ferdinand was also desperately unlucky.
After his spell at Newcastle, Kenny Dalglish returned to his former club Celtic as Director of Football with John Barnes appointed as first team manager. Barnes was a disaster and was sacked, with Dalglish placed in interim charge and leading the club to a Scottish League Cup victory.
He left Celtic in the summer of 2000 and would be out of football for nearly a decade before accepting a role with Liverpool in 2009, working with their youth academy and as a club ambassador.
After the sacking of Roy Hodgson, Dalglish found himself back in the manager’s chair at Anfield and was in charge when the club sanctioned the £35 million signing of Newcastle striker Andy Carroll in January 2011. Despite lifting yet another trophy in the form of the League Cup in 2012, he was unable to capture his former glories and was sacked as manager after an eighth place finish in the Premier League.
Kenny Dalglish was knighted in 2018 for services to football, charity and the City of Liverpool.
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