LONDON (AP) – There are many dates that have significance for Liverpool FC; however, January 8th 2011 is likely to be one of the most important in the club's 119-year history. That was the day that the King, Kenny Dalglish, returned to Anfield's hot seat, re-taking the reigns as manager of the Reds.
At first glance, it felt like a Hail Mary of a move by the club after a number of trophyless seasons. Dalglish had been away from management for close to 10 years, removed from the Merseyside dugout for almost 20. But from the moment he returned (at Old Trafford, of all places), it was obvious that he hadn't lost any of the acumen that brought him and the Reds so much success in their first spell together.
The first order of business for the canny Scotsman was to enter the transfer market, and he did so fearlessly by selling the much loved but unhappy Fernando Torres, pulling a staggering $80 million from Chelsea. Then, he immediately turned around and bought the duo of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez for almost the same amount. The message was obvious to English football: Dalglish was back, and firmly in control.
Now with a complete season in front of him, the Scotsman is using his vision and flexing his financial muscles by making a number of bold buys - buys that will pay massive dividends once the campaign begins.
The signing of Charlie Adam for roughly $12 million is a superb piece of business. Adam has the look and feel of a Liverpool player. In a way, he reminds me of former Red favorite, the Great Dane, Jan Molby. With a fine range of passing, plenty of bottle from the penalty spot, and a terrier like attitude, Adam has the potential to set Anfield alight.
Brazilian goalkeeper Alexander Doni has been snapped up on a free transfer from AS Roma. Having covered the Serie A last season, I can confirm that Doni is a brilliant shot stopper and has excellent command of his penalty area. With Pepe Reina recovering from surgery, the signing feels like a cover move, though we've seen Dalglish is not afraid to move players on when they're not entirely satisfied. The Spaniard has been making some noise about a move over the last year.
It's the purchase of England international, Stewart Downing, that seems like the missing piece of the puzzle. Liverpool have lacked natural width for too long, and with the big target of Carroll marauding in the box, quality service is a must. Downing, who began his career with Middlesbrough before moving to Aston Villa, has that secret sauce. He has the ability to drop the ball on a dime - a sweet left foot and pace. He's also durable, as demonstrated last season when he appeared in every Premiership match for the Villains. For sure, he didn't come cheaply, costing a reported $32 million, but he's a proven international coming into his prime.
Then there are the teenagers. This is where Dalglish has shown his true genius. Most managers want proven players and are afraid to throw youngsters in the deep end; however, the Liverpool Academy, after a quiet spell, looks to be cranking again. Dalglish is going to reap the rewards.
On the current Asian tour we've seen the growing development of Conor Coady (18), John Flanagan (18), Andre Wisdom (18), the excellent Jonjo Shelvey (19), and the old man of the bunch, Martin Kelly (21). All these fresh-faced players have caught eyes with their confidence to play Liverpool football. And this list doesn't even include the highly rated Raheem Sterling (16) amongst other Melwood residents. They're all so comfortable on the ball, they look to play one, two-touch without being overawed by their more accomplished teammates.
Dalglish will blood them slowly and in the right spots: where they can continue to mature into regular first team players. The situation is almost a mirror image of the 'Fergie Fledglings,' and image which would be richly ironic because it was the youth system at Manchester United that laid the foundations for the last two decades of continuous success. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil, all moved through the ranks at Old Trafford on their way to becoming world class internationals.
If Kenny Dalglish guides just one or two of these players into developing like the 'Fledglings,' he'll be delighted; however, if four or five of them make the big time we just may be witness to a changing of the guard in England. The power will certainly shift from Manchester , back to the team that used to dominate the game: Liverpool FC.
Kenny Dalglish, in his first spell as Liverpool manager, created history and broke records. He's on track to do exactly the same the second time around.