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Of Dalglish and Elephants

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Kenny Dalglish

Over the last few weeks, it seems as though every pundit has gone out of his way to use Kenny Dalglish to ferment a story full of conflict and uncertainty where none need exist. Every match, at some point, the announcer will ask why John Henry and FSG haven't signed him up permanently yet, before wondering if it's a sign of how these new Americans just don't get football, either. For weeks on end, every paper has milked the issue, wondering what on earth Dalglish has to do to impress John Henry, who must be an exceptionally callous man indeed to be unmoved by the passionate support from the fans for Dalglish and what he's done so far on his return. And for the most part, the fans at least nod along, because after all they do quite like Dalglish, and beyond being a legend he actually has done a fantastic job building the club back up after the widely celebrated departure of Roy Hodgson.

Of course, a good chunk of those in positions to shape public opinion who are now demanding Dalglish's ascension be made permanent were the same people clamouring for Roy Hodgson to get the chance they felt he deserved at a big club, and who then went out of their way to make excuses for him when he quickly showed himself lacking: First it was the players, that it was the former manager, that it was the too high expectations of the fans and the fact that any reasonable person knew he would need years to put what everybody knew would be his successful stamp on the club. Dalglish is of course a popular figure, and there are many with Liverpool leanings who will be genuine when they add their name to the pile of those calling for him to be given a new contract, but at least as many of the growing rabble--and often its loudest members--will fall into the former category. For them, it's just one more artificially created conflict, as in ever more desperate tones they ask why oh why those clueless owners won't sign Dalglish for the long term and wonder, probably while having a chuckle over the hornets' nest they're stirring, if it's a sign that these new owners can't hope to understand what the fans want.

Certainly an approach of trust but verify is preferable to blind trust, but to date the new owners have done everything right in the end, even if at times they've been too deliberative and quiet in their return to something resembling the Liverpool Way for the ADHD set. And just as certainly an approach that sees every month greeted with some new life or death dilemma that will need to be passed to prove their fitness (or lack thereof) while tabloid journalists wring their hands over the immanent self-immolation of Liverpool's betrayed faithful is beyond ridiculous. But the likes of TalkSport and Sky Sports know their audiences, and they like to throw chum and watch them whipped into a frenzy--it's good for ratings, and there isn't an ounce of the genuine behind their transparently constructed narratives.

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The long and the short of it is that Dalglish isn't going anywhere unless he himself decides he doesn't want to get back into management long term, and though his actions have suggested otherwise one can never completely rule out that exceedingly thin but plausible possibility. Whether the owners actually put pen and paper in front of him today or after the final match of the season, he'll be there to sign, and outside of a constructed conflict created by certain sections of the media to capture eyeballs, there really is no compelling reason to get it done right this very second.

Or at least there wasn't until now. With a vocal segment of the fanbase riled up and wondering why this latest crisis that wasn't isn't being solved right quick--and with news being leaked daily to the Henry Winters of the world so that they can keep up with developments, thanks very much--there may actually now be a compelling reason to sign him up as soon as possible: to put out a fire that wouldn't have existed without a handful of self-congratulatory arsonists running around to start it in the first place. In January these same people beat the drums and drove the story of owners who didn't understand football and so wouldn't spend the money needed in the transfer market, despite the fact that clubs rarely spend a lot of money in the January window, and by the final week of it every Liverpool-related site was filled with people wringing their hands and tearing their hair out over the possibility that the club was doomed and that the new owners were complete and utter failures. In the same way, without fail, on the eve of every match against United some massive and controversial story breaks, driving the over-excitable to shout the end is nigh.

Really, though, if one steps back there are no genuinely compelling reasons to sign Dalglish up to an extended contract yesterday. It isn't as though he's likely to be poached by Real Madrid. And certainly he got the support to go after targets in the transfer market, which shows a great deal of support from the owners through their actions. Meanwhile, any time John Henry has spoken about him it has been in nearly as glowing terms as when the fans do.

There's obviously a need to get his contract sorted at some point, but with the players playing well and the fans' passions rejuvenated and the club looking to bring in quality players again it was hardly the most pressing priority in the world over the past few months. At the very least there was nothing to suggest that it need be yet another story kindled and stoked to the point where if the owners don't get it done within some arbitrary timeframe, to some they will have once again shown themselves to be utter failures who just don't get it. Though perhaps that a story that could be twisted into the latest crisis of confidence existed at all meant it needed to be dealt with immediately. Maybe if there's one thing the new owners don't quite understand, at least from first-hand experience, it's the rabid nature of some sections of the football following media that at times behaves in a manner more befitting Hollywood celebrity tabloid coverage than sports journalism.

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For most everybody else, though, there's the assumption that in the end Dalglish will sign an extended contract. He wants it, the fans and supporters want it, and the owners have given every signal that they support him. It hasn't been the most pressing priority, but as it wouldn't seem to make a real difference if it happened next week or next month there's really no reason why it should have been. One can even quite easily imagine that a contract extension for Dalglish would be something the club would want to keep in its proverbial back pocket. After all, there's a value in keeping an event that would boost the spirits of fans and potentially, directly or indirectly, the players in reserve until a time when those fans and players do need a little boost. With that existing potential to raise spirits simply by announcing the contract has been extended, it would even seem downright foolish to rush to get the contract done just for the sake of getting it done, wasting such positivity at a time when it might not be particularly needed.

That's why rumours that a contract extension was immanent in the break between Europa League matches against Braga seemed plausible: the club had a deficit and needed to win the second leg by two clear goals to advance and keep European dreams alive, and doing something that might double the passions of supporters and give the team a boost going in would have made sense. In the end, the rumours turned out to be just that, but it was the sort of situation when an extension announcement would have made sense. The new owners have certainly shown themselves to be savvy when it comes to public relations, as when they leaked that they were actively searching for a new manager in the wake of the Wolves debacle that ended 2010, even though leaking that they were doing what everybody already assumed they were doing didn't fundamentally change anything except public perception.

So it seems rather unlikely that a new contract, or an extended contract, will be publicly announced at a completely random time. Unless the cries of various Chicken Littles become so great they simply can't be ignored, one rather expects any contract will be signed with an eye to giving the most useful boost to the club possible. Either that or it will get done when it becomes clear there's no real use dragging things out any longer waiting for the perfect moment to spring a bit of good news.

In the meantime, people need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and stop worrying quite so much about a situation that is only likely to have one outcome.