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Managing Expectations And Building Belief

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"We never set any expectations except to do the best we possibly could in every game. I never set any targets, but obviously we had to improve and we have done. We haven't finished the season yet, there are still a couple of games to go and the same principles will apply. We have a game on Sunday that we want to get the most we possibly can out of."

Kenny Dalglish's appointment yesterday was, as Noel mentioned, a widely anticipated and welcomed confirmation of news we all knew was coming. It was an acknowledgment of the vast improvement he and his staff have directed in nearly every facet of Liverpool's world, of the spirit he's brought with him, and of the unaminous sentiment among supporters that he was the only man any of us wanted in charge.

And, for me, it was also validation of the unique ability that Kenny Dalglish has to keep everyone's feet on the ground while still espousing the belief that Liverpool are the greatest club in the world.

Expectation and belief announced themselves as buzzwords of the campaign in the summer of 2010 with Roy Hodgson's appointment to the "biggest job in club football." They further cemented themselves when the same man led the club through an abysmal spell but only struggled because of "naive" and "unrealistic" hopes, and had their final say when, according to those in the press, Hodgson was dismissed in early January not because of unmet expectations but as a victim of ridiculous and unwarranted ones.

The discussion of expectation kicked into overdrive when Kenny Dalglish took charge after cutting his holiday short; supporters and detractors alike placed heavy emphasis on the expectations that the legend's interim appointment would create. For the former it was a chance to rebuild lofty expectations, and for the latter it simply provided another chance to deride yet another example of a club clinging desperately to its past.

From the outset, though, the only talk of expectation from the man himself was that it would need to be managed:

"We have got to manage expectations. At the moment it's a wee bit romantic, to be honest. The romance is brilliant, it's romantic for me to be back, and it's a wee bit romantic for some of the supporters as well. But at the end of the day this game isn't built on romance, it's built on hard facts. And the hard fact of the matter is we have got to start winning games. Once we get the romantics out [of] the road we can get to work and see what happens from there."

First spoken at a January 11th press conference, one day after the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, it's a theme we've since heard repeated every time Kenny Dalglish finds himself in front of a microphone---the expectations and the shoulds aren't nearly as important as the belief the club has in itself and its ability to be successful. One-hundred percent effort and commitment is the expectation and what the club is entitled to, and if the club gets that, the results will come. It's not the dumping of water on the flickering embers of hope that we became all too familiar with in the first five months of the season, but a laying out of expectation that's neither ridiculous nor archaic.

This isn't to say that expectations for trophies and success don't exist; there's little sense in denying that, even with assertions to the contrary, Dalglish has designs on returning Liverpool to the top of the table. His "one match at time" and "add the points up at the end" mantras are most certainly not aimed at three years of finishing in fifth, or simply giving it a good run for part of a season.

So maybe there is a target and maybe there isn't, but what's irrefutable is that Kenny Dalglish's masterstroke has been simultaneously downplaying the importance of expectations while instilling the belief that, even though he's not into that sort of thing, no expectation is out of reach. The time frame in which it's been accomplished is remarkable, as is the manner in which it's occurred. As we've said before, the results and performances have run the spectrum from nearly perfect to nearly unwatchable, from the heights of wins at Chelsea and Fulham to defeats at West Brom and Blackpool.

What's never wavered, though, is Dalglish and company's commitment to creating an environment in which success is achieved not by talking about what Liverpool are going to or should do, or what they're entitled to because of their great history, but by instilling belief and unity in moving towards a common goal. As he mentioned, it's less about targets and more about principles, and we've seen Liverpool reap the benefits of those principles over the past three months. All the glory's in the trophies, of course, but without the belief there's little chance of getting there.

And with Spurs set to visit Anfield on Sunday, it'll be easy to talk about the opportunity Liverpool have to return to where they belong and where we expect them to be. But we can also be content with the knowledge that the man in charge is concerned with nothing other than the task at hand, and the belief that Liverpool are capable of achieving something that, as blasphemous as it may be, exceeds expectations.