KENNY DALGLISH is no stranger to record-breaking transfers – especially when it comes to centre-forwards. Having become the most expensive British player ever when Bob Paisley paid Celtic £440,000 to take him to Liverpool in the summer of 1977, and handled with ease the pressure and expectation that comes with such a lofty status, Dalglish showed similar courage in his own dealings as a manager.
His capture of Peter Beardsley from Newcastle in 1987 cost the Reds £1.9m, setting a new record between British clubs. Beardsley would go on to be an integral part of Dalglish’s greatest side.
Five years later, the British record would be upped to £3.3m, as Dalglish tempted Southampton starlet Alan Shearer away from the admiring glances of a certain Alex Ferguson, and into the arms of unfashionable Blackburn Rovers.
Shearer would set all kinds of scoring records at Ewood Park, but two years on Dalglish, backed by Jack Walker’s millions, would dip back into the market, setting a new record with the £5m signing of Chris Sutton from Norwich. Sutton and Shearer – the SAS – would deliver Blackburn their first league title for 81 years in 1995.
Now, 16 years later, Dalglish is at it again.
His latest record-breaker, Andy Carroll, is treading a similar path.
Yet as the most expensive Englishman in football history faces a race against time to be fit to face his former club Newcastle on Sunday, Dalglish believes Liverpool’s new number 9 is a different type of player to Shearer, the man Carroll watched through idolising eyes growing up.
“It is a natural comparison, I guess,” says Dalglish, “The two Geordies, the two number 9s, both signed by myself. But for me they are totally different. Different characters and different footballers.
“(Shearer signing for Blackburn) was under totally different circumstances. Alan came into a club that was trying to develop itself – Blackburn had only just won promotion - whereas this club is already hugely well established. So in that sense I don’t think you can compare the two signings.
“Yes, they are both from Newcastle, but Andy coming to Liverpool doesn’t really bear comparison with Shearer signing for Blackburn.
“The only comparison I see is the desire to be successful, but that is not just exclusive to Andy and Alan. I hope every player the club brings in will have that.”
Carroll’s Liverpool story so far has been something of a slow burner. Following his £35m switch on January’s transfer deadline day, the Gateshead-born striker was sidelined with a thigh injury sustained while at Newcastle, and would not make his first team bow until March.
Then, after breaking his Anfield scoring duck with two fine goals in the win over Manchester City three weeks ago, Carroll was frustratingly forced off with a nasty-looking knee injury in the draw with Arsenal five days later.
Dalglish admits he does not know yet if Carroll will be fit enough to face his former employers this weekend – “if he is fit, he’s fit” is his no-nonsense response – but says that the pressure that comes with a record price-tag is having absolutely no effect on his most extravagant signing.
“There is no pressure on Andy from within here,” says Dalglish. “He has been here since January now, and I don’t think the price makes any difference in terms of pressure – we have said that all along.
“He’s just got to get on with what he does best, and that is to play football. I think he has done that, and he is not too worried about what the price was.
“I am not interested in England, as long as he is our number 9 for a long time to come I am happy. We wouldn’t have spent so much money if we didn’t have belief in him, and we have total belief in Andy.”
And Carroll, it seems, has total belief in himself.
Dalglish insists that he has not been surprised by the manner in which the youngster has settled into life as a Liverpool player, and believes there is plenty more to come from the England man – both this season and beyond.
“I don’t think Andy has surprised anyone,” he adds. “If you go back to his first goal against Manchester City – he rattled in one like that (in December) against us! So there is nothing really that Andy has done which has been surprising to us.
“You know what you’re getting before he came in, or at least you have an idea. What you don’t know is the personality I guess, and maybe if there is one thing that has pleasantly surprised us then it is his personality.
“He is a real down to earth boy, who maybe sometimes doesn’t realise he’s a footballer. But that’s because he is naive, and because he has his feet firmly fixed on the ground. That is not a criticism, that is a huge compliment.
“If next season is to be his best, then we have got a lot to look forward to! But I wouldn’t be writing off this season just yet. We have been delighted with the way he has gone about his rehabilitation, and the way he has played the games. But unfortunately after scoring the two goals, he picked up an injury against Arsenal. We will need to see if he can play Sunday, but if he is not fit Sunday he should be fit to play the next game (against Fulham on May 2). So he has a bit of mileage to do this season before we start thinking about next year.”
Sunday’s lunchtime clash, meanwhile, could give Newcastle supporters a first chance to voice their dissent at the man who scored 33 goals in 91 appearances for the Magpies.
Though both club and player dispute the details which surrounded his whirlwind move to Merseyside, there is likely to be a lingering sense of ill-feeling, with the Toon Army still hurting at their former idol’s perceived disloyalty.
Dalglish, however, believes that any criticism from the away end on Sunday will be water off a duck’s back to Carroll.
“The Newcastle fans can do whatever they want, really,” he says. “It won’t take away what Andy has done for their football club, and it won’t take away what the football club means to Andy. It is a compliment, really, in a strange way. If he gets abuse, it means he must have been important to them.
“I’m sure when they signed Alan Shearer, they didn’t give too much consideration to Blackburn Rovers fans. That’s football, and what goes around comes around.”