“WHEN you have a resource like Kenny it’s best to use it properly.”
They were the words of Roy Hodgson on July 1 2010 – the day he was unveiled as Liverpool manager.
Hodgson was talking about his desire to give ambassador Kenny Dalglish an enhanced role at Anfield, but it was a comment which would resonate during a season unlike any other in the Reds’ 119-year history.
The tumultuous 2010/11 campaign will never be forgotten. Liverpool made their worst start to a season for 57 years as the man brought in to steady the ship following the departure of Rafa Benitez merely served to accelerate the club’s decline.
Wracked by instability and infighting, the Reds were on the brink of administration before the wretched reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett was finally ended.
The £300million takeover by Fenway Sports Group lifted the gloom off the pitch but on it Liverpool continued to flounder. The Reds were flirting with a relegation battle before Hodgson was sacked and Dalglish was handed his second coming.
The Kop legend masterminded a fairytale revival but it wasn’t all plain sailing with the shock departure of a talismanic striker to one of their most bitter rivals.
It was a season when Liverpool failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in 12 years and endured the galling sight of Manchester United landing a record 19th league title. Yet remarkably it ended with supporters heading off full of optimism about what the future holds.
The decision to ignore Dalglish’s claims for the job last summer on the basis he had been out of management for a decade looked bizarre at the time and so it proved.
Hodgson’s appointment was greeted largely with apathy. Having guided Fulham to the Europa League final and been crowned manager of the year, his stock was high but there was nothing in his CV to suggest the journeyman would be a success at Anfield.
A home draw with Arsenal on the opening weekend, when only an error by Pepe Reina cost Liverpool victory, briefly raised hopes.
But the problems for Hodgson soon started to mount. Javier Mascherano refused to play in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester City and forced through a move to Bareclona.
With the exception of Raul Meireles, his signings flopped with £8m tossed away on Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen. The excitement generated by Joe Cole’s arrival on a free transfer soon subsided.
There was discontent about the style of football. Liverpool were launching the ball long and were happy to sit deep and allow opponents to dictate proceedings. It wasn’t the Liverpool Way.
At every turn Hodgson tried to lower expectations with talk of the big rebuilding job that was needed. Mediocre opponents were talked up as world beaters and a string of embarrassing gaffes gave the impression of a manager out of his depth.
Being dumped out of the Carling Cup by Northampton Town was followed by defeat at home to Blackpool. Amid talk of administration and a possible 10-point deduction fans took to the streets to protest. Liverpool looked to be tumbling towards the abyss.
There was a triumphant end to the ownership saga as Martin Broughton, Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre led the celebrations on the steps of the High Court but there was no respite for Hodgson.
Principal owner John Henry was at Goodison to watch his new investment beaten 2-0 by their rivals. The Reds were abject in one of the most one-sided derbies in years but Hodgson claimed it was “as well as we have played all season”.
Liverpool were joint bottom with only West Ham below them on goal difference. With the benefit of hindsight that was when the axe should have fallen.
Torres inspired a 2-0 win over Chelsea in November but for the most part he sulked his way through games. It soon became apparent why he saved his best for Roman Abramovich’s eyes.
By the time the Reds lost at home to Wolves just after Christmas Hodgson’s position was increasingly untenable. The show of dissent was unprecedented as fans sarcastically championed him for the England job.
The final nail in the coffin was a miserable 3-1 defeat at Blackburn. After 191 days Hodgson was gone – the shortest managerial reign in the club’s history. Liverpool were 12th, only four points above the drop zone and in desperate need of leadership.
The SOS call went out to the Silver Wind cruise ship in the Arabian Gulf and 36 hours later Dalglish was leading the Reds out at Old Trafford. A cloud had been lifted and the Scot set about his “unfinished business”.
“I’m here to help you,” he told the players. The mood was transformed with confidence and belief restored. Where Hodgson bemoaned his lot, Dalglish talked up the talent at his disposal. The appointment of Steve Clarke as first team coach proved inspired and Liverpool’s famed pass and move philosophy was returned.
Torres did his best to dampen the feelgood factor with the bombshell he wanted to join Chelsea but the situation was dealt with expertly.
The £50m was reinvested as director of football Damien Comolli and Dalglish moved fast to snap up Andy Carroll for a British record £35m as well as Luis Suarez, who was joining anyway for £22.7m.
If victory at Stamford Bridge was sweet there was even better to follow in March as Manchester United were demolished at Anfield. Dirk Kuyt netted a hat-trick but it was Suarez who was the architect of United’s downfall. The Uruguayan’s impact following his switch from Ajax was remarkable. The Kop has a new idol and one with a work ethic to match his breathtaking talent.
The unity, spirit and sense of togetherness instilled by Dalglish shone through as despite a hefty casualty list – including skipper Steven Gerrard – Liverpool made a gutsy late bid for Europe.
Dalglish put his faith in youth and was rewarded as Academy duo John Flanagan and Jack Robinson effortlessly made the step up.
Crucially, the wave of positivity convinced Pepe Reina to reconsider his plans to move on. Dalglish got the three-year deal his efforts deserved and not even signing off with two defeats could wipe the smiles off Kopites’ faces. 2010/11 was the year when they got their club back and started to believe again.
It was just a shame Dalglish had to wait as long as he did because, as Hodgson will tell you: “When you have a resource like Kenny it’s best to use it properly.”