Kenny Dalglish – A very special tribute

My personal memories of Kenny Dalglish – and both as a player and a manager – are plentiful. I shall have to leave most everything of it out in an article for The Shankly Way blog. But still, let me start by telling one good story of my own – one particular detail from my very first season as a Liverpool supporter.

I must have become a Liverpool supporter in November / December 1980. Liverpool managed to win the League Cup that season, were knocked out of the F.A. Cup early on, and in the end were to be seen as the team finishing fifth in the First Division table, well behind new champions Aston Villa, and my only hope for real club glory with its chance of wide smiles and laughter was laid at rest in Paris, where the European Cup final would be staged at Parc des Princes on 27 May 1981 – exactly one month after I had turned ten years of age. I sat myself down in front of the television set, and watched the game on television eager to seeing my team win this very trophy for the third time this time around. This all-important game is one that I shall definitely remember until I am old, grey and with a very wrinkled face!

Liverpool dominated the European Cup final from start to finish, but the Real Madrid defence was extremely solid and adapt that Paris evening covering all available space at their own half of the pitch. I kept waiting for real goal opportunites to surface, but it seemed not to be with a whole team of Real Madrid players fully concentrated on the most important defensive job they all knew could seal the victory for them rather than the ever-attacking Liverpool team which fielded players like Graeme Souness and Terry McDermott in central midfield, Sammy Lee and Ray Kennedy on the flanks, and two tough forwards named David Johnson and Kenny Dalglish. Real Madrid man marked key Liverpool stars like McDermott, Souness and Dalglish relentlessly. Liverpool, on the other hand, kept Real Madrid winger Laurie Cunningham man marked just as effectively as Real Madrid did to the most creative and dangerous men up front. Liverpool’s few goal opportunities were a little bigger than those of Real Madrid, but goalkeeper Agustin Rodríguez didn’t need to put in lots of effort to keeping Alan Kennedy, Terry McDermott and Kenny Dalglish from scoring a goal or two. Graeme Souness also got a chance to score, but failed to do so. Eventually, after 81 minutes of play, Ray Kennedy’s throw-in was easily recieved by Alan Kennedy, who went on to slid past right back Rafael García Cortés and bent the ball into the far corner of the goal behind Real Madrid keeper Rodríguez. A fantastic goal, in all its shrewd simplicity. Dalglish was immediately substituted off for Jimmy Case in order to make the scoreline stand.


Liverpool 1, Real Madrid 0 – and Bob Paisley thus became the first manager to win the European Cup three times. Paisley should certainly be counted amongst the big European sports legends. Is he? Was he ever? No, not at all. A little too English perhaps to ever get such a status? For once in my life I really don’t know.

And now for different and very often much more notable sources than my right solid heart beating as well as my good brain blazing.

I was assistant with Scotland when he was making his final few appearances. At half-time against Romania I gave him a rollicking on the night he won his 100th cap. Those were the days when I was younger and a bit more fiery.

We had been poor so when we got the players back to the dressing room I told him straight: ‘That was not acceptable.’ I said their No 8 was running the show and he hadn’t been able to get near him. Kenny looked at me and said: ‘Sorry.’ He went back out there to put things right and we went on to win 3-0. At the end when the boys came back in I told them it had been a lot better. Then Kenny looked at me and said: ‘Thank you.’

So this was one of my first internationals with Kenny Dalglish, and he said three words to me the whole time – ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’!

~ Craig Brown – Scotland assistant manager in 1986

For most players, football is a puzzle solvable when they can stop, think, and then execute – quite a rigid process. On the pitch, knowing when to move and when to stay put takes practice. Knowing where to move is a skill honed over time. Defining players in the mould of Johan Cruyff, George Best, Zinedine Zidane and Kenny Dalglish are proof football rewards brains over brawn, for these players also know the why to football’s in-game quandaries. For players of this ilk, expectation of success supersedes the hope of it.

‘What Kenny Dalglish had was speed of thought. That will always overcome speed of movement,’ said Celtic assistant manager, Sean Fallon.

In August 1977, after making 320 appearances and scoring 167 goals for Celtic, Kenny Dalglish signed for Liverpool for a then-record British transfer fee of £440.000. During his time at Celtic, Dalglish won four Scottish First Division titles, four Scottish Cups and one Scottish League Cup.

Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, in disbelief, exclaimed: ‘How on Earth can Celtic sell a player like this for any amount of money??!’

His time at Liverpool remains among the club’s most successful stretches. With Kenny Dalglish deployed as the club’s number 7, Liverpool continued its ascension and domination of British and European club football, winning six league titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, seven Charity Shields, three European Cups and one UEFA Super Cup. Liverpool Football Club was on a different level and the supporters dubbed Dalglish their leader – and with that role came the deserved title: King Kenny, whom to this day is widely-regarded as the best player to ever wear the club’s famous red shirt.

In April 1983 at the end of his career as Liverpool manager, Bob Paisley possibly came up with some of the wisest words on footballing philosophy he had ever revealed to the press, national or local press as was where he said this (Liverpool Daily Post).

‘There are five things generally accepted to be necessary to make a footballer: skill, strength, stamina, speed and flexibility. You have to bear these factors in mind when you are putting together your training programme. The whole scene is a stamina test, a marathon race. Strength has to be developed from the start. You build that up, giving the player a higher resistance to things. Skill comes next, developed with a constant repetition of pattern. Speed comes after you’ve run them in. Then you start to get them stretching out. Flexibility is important, and we probably suffer in this country because of our climate. It’s a well-known fact that players performing in warmer climates have a wider range of movements.’

Dalglish was often construed as a ‘thinking‘ footballer with a nose for the very correct penetrating passes, the surprising solutions, and the fantastic goals. On top of that he also had a unike will to win, coupled with a fast movement with or without the ball at his feet. These characteristics gave him and his team-mates openings other English teams so often struggled to find, a fact that would become an instrumental factor for a Liverpool side with exceptional success during the 1970s and 80s. Dalglish was a strong player who never would allow himself to be pushed aside and away from the ball by players from opposition teams. Manchester United’s Kevin Moran broke his cheek bone around newyear 1984, but in the next game between these clubs, Dalglish severely injured Kevin Moran by destroying the culprit’s ancle. He would often argue with the referees, but he seemed to know exactly where the border between criticism and abuse was laid. Only after he had been sent off in the duration of a game against Portuguese champions Benfica was he punished with a ban by the federation.

Just like another famous Scottish forward – Denis Law – Kenny Dalglish had the guts required to plunge himself into dangerous situations, whether it was with his head or feet first. Even though he was an expert at scoring smart goals, and also at sending a penetrating pass into the opposition’s box, Dalglish was also able to make lots of other surprises. When people had come to believe he was incapable of shooting from a long range, he would all of a sudden, at will, score a pearl of a goal from a range of 25 metres. When his heading skills seemed to have gone lost on him, he might just as well come up with a fantastic header that ended in the back of the net. He could also surprise people by way of scoring from direct freekicks from outside the box, but would never ever take a penalty kick upon himself for Liverpool. He looked as a player who was born for such a duty, but a miss early on in his Celtic career is said to have made an enormous mark on him. He simply refused to take any penalty kick ever again.

Dalglish wasn’t the fastest player, nor was he a brilliant header of the ball, but his other exceptional qualites made up for this. He was incredibly stable and was all but never injured. Kenny Dalglish was by team-mates and managers described as a model professional, both on and off the pitch. He was careful about what he ate and drank, and also early a family father who stayed far away from all sorts of nightlife.

‘What is speed? The sports press often confuses speed with insight. See, if I start slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster. There’s only one moment in which you can arrive in time. If you’re not there, you’re either too early or too late.’

~ Johan Cruyff

Kenny Dalglish would keep his distance to the mass media outlets as much as he could possibly do. If ever he was asked what was his best goal, he would always give the answer ‘my next one’. After a short while Dalglish became known for his lightning sharp comments made when approached by the press, and was therefore not always referred to in nice and positive ways. A lot of the supporters of Liverpool F.C. also were disgruntled by the fact that Dalglish seldomly would write autographs, but very few of them would complain too loudly. After all, Kenny Dalglish was to be regarded as one of the team’s attacking powerhouses so why bother to complain?

The British press often portrayed him as a little arrogant, something of a loner, because he seemed mostly to be focussing on football and his family who just wanted to ‘let the goals do the talking’. But even though Dalglish wasn’t always all that popular outside the stadium’s entrances, he was always one of the lads in the dressing room, even after he was installed as Liverpool’s manager in a player-manager role after the Heysel tragedy and Joe Fagan, who was in a horrible psychological state, all of a sudden retired from everything football related.

One stint of a media cracker is as easy to remember as it is hilarious.

During Alex Ferguson’s underwhelming early Old Trafford years Kenny Dalglish, busy choreographing three league title triumphs and two FA Cup successes, was more preoccupied with then ascendant Everton, but he did take time to address cynical reporters at a Football Writers’ Dinner, urging them to offer Manchester United’s beleaguered manager the benefit of then considerable doubt.

Ferguson did not return the compliment when, furious with the refereeing during a 3-3 draw at Anfield in 1988, he launched into an extraordinary anti-Liverpool rant. Cradling his then six-week-old daughter Lauren in his arms, an unruffled Dalglish responded by telling an interviewer: ‘You’d be better off talking to my baby. She’s only six weeks old but you’d get more sense from her than him.’ Lauren was due to attend Sunday’s game and Dalglish said, joking: ‘She’ll be there to haunt Fergie again.’

Just one more, okay? One to give us all an idea of exactly what kind of person Kenny Dalglish is. For real. A Daily Mirror article published as Kenny Dalglish was about to have the second revised addition of ‘My Autobiography’ launched in 2013 reveals quite a few nice things about our club’s best and most influential player throughout football history.

Despite all his feats at Liverpool Football Club, there is still one thing Kenny Dalglish dreams of doing – watching a match from Anfield’s legendary Kop.

Dalglish would love to watch the Reds from among the fans who have always worshipped him, and says he may try and slip onto the Kop unnoticed one day.

‘The thing about the Kop is that you wanted to be in there, but you couldn’t because you were playing,’ he said. ‘I wanted to get in there and experience it. The only time I was on the Kop properly was after Hillsborough – I walked through with the kids. Since then, I’ve sat on the Kop for a number of Hillsborough anniversary services, but never for a game.’

Two times former manager Kenny Dalglish explains: ‘I know Bill Shankly once stood on the Kop when he retired. Who knows? I’d like to do it anonymously. I wouldn’t want to do it with a fanfare or for any PR or publicity. I would just love to be in there with the fans, who have always chanted my name.’


Let me just add a few words and opinions coming from former players.

‘Kenny’s debut with the Celtic first team was a testimonial at Kilmarnock. Jock Stein played him up front and Kenny scored seven goals. He was incredible.’

~ Danny McGrain (Celtic and Scotland team-mate)

As Kevin Keegan left The Reds for new adventures in Germany, many were less than convinced Kenny Dalglish was the ideal replacement able to fill Keegan’s boots.

‘You don’t need to worry. Absolutely! No, no, he would be twice the player that Keegan would be. Nah, he was something special.’

~ Denis Law (Scotland 1958 – 74)

‘The most complete player I ever saw, and sort of my hero in those days, was Alfredo Di Stefano, the centre forward (of Real Madrid), who I mean, it seemed he could do everything, he could score goals, he could defend, he was good in the air, both feet, exciting to watch, and Kenny – eh, I was gonna say was close to him, but he was probably on a par with him as far as I’m concerned, and that’s for me the highest compliment that I can pay Kenny.’

~ George Best

‘There was a lot of times when he could have when he could have had a shot at goal, but then he just side-footed it for me to tap in. So he always put the team before any individual.’

~ Ian Rush

‘There is nothing new or original that I can say about Kenny. He’s probably the greatest figure in British football. There is only really Johan Cruyff who has achieved such success both as a player and a manager.’

~ Jamie Carragher

‘I sometimes don’t think he gets the reputation, certainly world wide, as he deserved. Part of it could be Scotland who weren’t high profile. Remember, in those days the English league wasn’t as high profile abroad as nowadays, and he didn’t have a well-known name. He could go a whole game and not score, and still be the best player on the field.’

~ Gordon McQueen (Scotland team-mate until 1981)

Talking of which …

Kenny Dalglish is far from being a player of the sort Gordon McQueen refers to: brilliant players who doesn’t get the reputation they most obviously deserved.

Just to name three such players. George Best could easily have gained the same reputation as both Alfredo Di Stéfano and the Brazilian winger Garrincha, Ryan Giggs was just as good as Stanley Matthews and Luis Figo were, Ian Rush could have been regarded as the British Ferenc Puscas, Eusebio, Marco Van Basten or Gabriel Batistuta. Kenny Dalglish himself could easily have had the same reputation as Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona had, now, couldn’t he?



Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish (born 4 March 1951)

Playing honours

Celtic

Scottish First Division (4): 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1976–77
Scottish Cup (4): 1971–72, 1973–74, 1974–75, 1976–77
Scottish League Cup (1): 1974-75

Liverpool

English League First Division (6): 1978–79, 1979–80, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86
F.A. Cup (1): 1985–86
League Cup (4): 1980–81, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84
European Cup (3): 1977–78, 1980–81, 1983–84
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1977

Managerial honours

Liverpool

English League First Division (3): 1985–86, 1987–88, 1989–90
F.A. Cup (2): 1985–86, 1988–89
League Cup (1): 2011–12
Super Cup (1): 1985–86

Blackburn Rovers

Premier League (1): 1994–95
Football League Second Division Play Off Winners (1): 1991-92

Celtic

Scottish League Cup (1): 1999-2000
Individual honours

Ballon d’Or: Runner-up 1983
PFA Players’ Player of the Year: 1982-83
FWA Footballer of the Year: 1978–79, 1982-83
FWA Tribute Award: 1987
English Football Hall of Fame (Player): 2002
Scottish Football Hall of Fame: 2004
European Hall of Fame (Player): 2008

Writer: @magneleokarlsen

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