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A Poor Way to Treat One's Friends

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Fernando Torres left, Steven Gerrard was soon injured, and Andy Carroll arrived unfit to play. Pepe Reina was in the midst of his second of three seasons that left fans talking about him being some way short of his best. The defence, though decent, was hardly the dominant force it became for a time in the middle of the 2011-12 season after Jamie Carragher's injury forced the coaching staff to experiment with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as the starting pairing.

Success instead came from Luis Suarez, having just arrived at the club and playing his best football for Liverpool in the final months of last season, while in the centre of the pitch Lucas continued the form that had made him one of the few bright spots of Roy Hodgson's aborted reign. Meanwhile, at the centre of it all, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, and Raul Merieles provided the passing, the movement, the supporting runs into the box, and the attacking interplay that linked Lucas and the defense behind them with Suarez in front.

Without them, Lucas' solid base goes to waste. Without them, Suarez appears isolated for long stretches, forced to do everything on his own—and likely suffering for it as he often has this season. Without them, Kenny Dalglish never becomes Liverpool's permanent manager.

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It makes the decision Kenny Dalglish then made—or at the very least acquiesced to—to throw those three men aside in favour of a failed rebuilding effort based around Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and Jordan Henderson on the right more than simply frustrating from a footballing perspective. Certainly it seemed a massive miscalculation in a footballing sense from the moment the wheels set in motion on changes that would see Liverpool plummet from the kind of form that would see them fighting near the top of the table to where they find themselves today. But beyond that, the marginalisation of those three men Dalglish at least in part owed his job to—in favour of a trio who, at least in the roles they have been used in, made Liverpool demonstrably worse—cannot help but leave one feeling uncomfortable.

It can't help but leave one wondering if Dalglish is the man to rebuild the club now that his first efforts at rebuilding it—efforts that came at a time when it was far from clear that a complete overhaul was necessary or wise—have ended badly and two more of the men who were key in making Liverpool look so good when he first returned to the manager's chair are on their way out. And it won't be just the fans asking themselves this question—the club's best players, the few who could walk into a Champions League and title challenging side without difficulty, will be asking it, too.

The first of such cases may end up being that of Martin Skrtel, Liverpool's best and most consistent player of the season. While his agent has denied reports that the player is unhappy due to fears he may see out the prime of his career at Liverpool without Champions League football, he does admit that discussions with the club to determine its short-term ambitions will be necessary. And if Liverpool's few truly top class players—players like Skrtel and defensive partner Daniel Agger, midfielder Lucas Leiva, and striker Luis Suarez—find themselves unable to believe in the club's short-term prospects, it could end up a blow that would consign Liverpool to mid-table mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

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Then, of course, we return the case of Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt's career may be closer to its end than its beginning, but with it a near certainty that he will start every game for the Netherlands at this summer's European Championships and given his form twelve months ago when he last played regularly at Liverpool, it's difficult to believe he doesn't have more to give a side looking to compete near the top. At the very least, it's hard to imagine that a player like Stewart Downing who will turn 28 before the start of next season or Jordan Henderson who continues to look woefully misused on the right would offer this or any other side a better future at the position than Kuyt.

Dalglish, it seems, doesn't agree, and the unsurprising end result can be found in an interview with a Dutch newspaper where Kuyt spoke of how in his heart he would like nothing more than to stay at Liverpool but that he feels marginalised by the current manager—a man who without the run of form that saw Kuyt end the 2010-11 campaign as the club's leading goalscorer likely wouldn't be in the manager's chair this year.

For Kuyt—and for the fans as well—seeing the club bring in a player who dominated his position, who won the right to take the bulk of his minutes a few months after he led the team in scoring, would have been one thing. Instead an unproven central midfielder was handed the ill-suited role on a silver platter, never having to prove his effectiveness. And when Henderson's struggles at the unfamiliar position at times became too much for Kenny Dalglish to stand, the answer most often was to shift Downing to the right where his ineffective predictability became a further mark against a man who managed to go an entire season without scoring a goal or assist in league play despite being the club's fourth most expensive signing ever.

It was a similar story for Maxi Rodriguez, and the tale only ended differently for Raul Meireles when the club's refusal to live by the previous regime's promise to renegotiate his relatively paltry contract following a strong first season made clear what his standing was following last summer's arrivals. Dalglish had decided on a clear and ruthless course, sacrificing those who had given him a second chance at managing Liverpool Football Club in order to rebuild a side that for many seemed to only need minor tweaking.

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It would have been one thing if it had all worked out as Dalglish intended. Looking at the treatment of certain players who seemed as though they deserved better after what they gave the club might still have left some feeling uneasy, but success can excuse quite nearly anything in football. That success, at least in the league, never arrived. Liverpool were often static; became more direct; often lacked support from midfield in attack. Luis Suarez attempted to do too much on his own and in the end everything he tried to do came off slightly worse for it. Lucas was overworked trying to do the job of two in midfield, and the worst fears of that over-reliance leading to injury came to pass. Gerrard once again found himself regularly injured—or forced into a deeper role when he wasn't. And in the end Kenny Dalglish was left with a poor result built on a clear failure of judgement.

No player has done more for Liverpool since arriving at the club than Kuyt, and none of the recent British signings embodies the ethos of the club even half as well as the Dutchman. His career may be winding down, but the evidence suggests he still has a lot to offer—certainly more at the positions he's comfortable in than those who would be his replacements. For a man who will go down as a club legend to be marginalised as he has in those circumstances is disgraceful, no matter that the man making the decisions is himself a legend of even greater stature.

While not nearly as unfortunate as the case of Dirk Kuyt, the disposal of Maxi and Meireles in favour of a failed British revolution after they both played key roles in the previous season's resurgence can also in no way be spun into something encouraging. Elsewhere, too, there are further personnel decisions that cannot help but leave one puzzled, with Jose Enrique overplayed at left back to the point of exhaustion, something the entire team suffered as a result of. Then there is the complete failure to find playing time for Sebastian Coates, one of the most promising centre back prospects in world football, as the season wound down. Andy Carroll, meanwhile, found himself either promoted or dropped from the starting eleven with seemingly no concern for form, as his best games were often followed by a return to the bench and poor performances led to further starts.

Still, if one casts back over the mistakes of the past twelve months at Liverpool Football Club, nothing stands out quite so much as the decision to unceremoniously discard the core of last season's successful second half resurgence. Fans and clubs are quick to talk of players having loyalty—or, more often, of them lacking it—yet the treatment Kuyt in particular has received over the past year tops by some margin the defection of Fernando Torres to Chelsea when it comes to displays of disloyalty. If Kenny Dalglish had been right in his decision to cast him and others aside it may have been easier to overlook. Instead it represents this season's most damning failure—a sorry confluence of personnel, selection, and stubbornness.