Premier League Clubs Managed: Blackburn Rovers (1992-1995), Newcastle United (1997-1998), Liverpool FC (2011-2012)
As a player, Kenny Dalglish’s achievements are second-to-none. As a manager, his achievements are almost unprecedented. He was a born winner and experienced the ultimate highs and tragic lows as a manager.
In a playing career that spanned over 20 years, he won numerous honours with both Celtic and Liverpool FC, scored a hatful of goals and produced moments of sheer brilliance that the fans on the terraces at Parkhead and Anfield never forget.
Kenny won the European Cup three times as a player and scored the winning goal in the 1978 final against Club Brugge. In terms of league honours, he won 10 league titles, along with 10 domestic cups and the UEFA Super Cup in 1977. His career is a glittering one and he is often considered the greatest player to have ever played for both Celtic and Liverpool FC.
His management breakthrough came as a surprise and in tumultuous circumstances.
Picking up after Heysel
In 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster before the European Cup final had sent shockwaves around the world. English clubs were immediately banned from participating in European competition for the rest of the decade. Joe Fagan decided to step down as Liverpool FC’s first-team manager. Dalglish took the reins as player-manager.
In his first season in the dugout, Liverpool FC won the double. It was Dalglish who scored the winning goal on the final day of the season at Stamford Bridge to win the 1986 First Division title for the Reds.’ A week later, they beat Merseyside rivals Everton in the FA Cup final. This was during the height of dominance on Merseyside in the British game. He had come straight in and achieved a unique feat as a rookie. More was to come.
He signed the likes of Peter Beardsley, John Barnes and John Aldridge as Liverpool continued their supreme grip on the English game. Further titles followed in 1988 and 1990, with runners-up spots in 87 and 89. The Double would elude them twice. In 1988, underdogs Wimbledon beat Dalglish’s Reds’ in the FA Cup final. In 1989, it was a last-gasp strike from Michael Thomas that snatched the league title for Arsenal at Anfield with moments remaining of the campaign. Liverpool won the FA Cup that season on a highly-charged afternoon.
Saturday, 15 April 1989 will remain the blackest day in English football history. It was a sunny afternoon as Liverpool FC fans flocked to Sheffield to see their team play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final. 96 supporters would not come home; crushed on the terraces of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.
In the aftermath, Dalglish attended many funerals of the victims and his presence on the club, the grieving families and the city has been described as immense. The tragedy affected him deeply and Liverpool’s victory in the cup final that season against Everton was a victory that was much more than just a football match.
In February 1991, the two Merseyside teams played out a belting FA Cup fifth round tie which finished 4-4 at Goodison Park. Two days later, Dalglish shocked everyone by resigning as manager. This was despite Liverpool still being three points clear at the top of the First Division table. All the trauma and strain had caught up with him but he would be back – both in management and later on in his career with the club who he has always seen as home.
Changing the face of Blackburn
After seven months out of the game, Kenny Dalglish returned to management with Blackburn Rovers in October 1991. He led Rovers back to the top-flight of English football for the first time since 1966 with victory over Leicester City in the Second Division playoffs. It meant Blackburn would play in the inaugural FA Premier League season.
Backed by beloved Blackburn fan and steel magnet Jack Walker, Dalglish wasted little time in making the club one of the best in the early Premier League Years. He broke the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer in 1992 from Southampton and repeated the feat two years later to snare Chris Sutton away from Norwich City.
Other notable buys included winger Stuart Ripley, midfielder Paul Warhurst and goalkeeper Tim Flowers. Blackburn were looking to go all the way and become champions of England. After finishing fourth and second in the first two seasons, 1994-1995 was the year that Walker’s dreams would come true.
Blackburn topped the table from late November onwards and barely surrendered top spot but they were pushed all the way by reigning champions Manchester United. A late wobble saw an eight-point lead diminish to just two by the final day of the season. In an ironic twist, Blackburn were at Anfield to play Dalglish’s former side, Liverpool FC whilst Manchester United travelled to Upton Park to face West Ham United.
Alex Ferguson had been playing his usual mind games tactic, hinting that Liverpool would roll over and allow Blackburn to win to ensure Manchester United wouldn’t win the championship. It didn’t go like that. Liverpool won 2-1 with a late free-kick from Jamie Redknapp. Seconds later, the full-time whistle went in London. Manchester United had failed to beat West Ham and that meant the result on Merseyside was inconsequential. Blackburn Rovers were champions of England for the first time in 81 years. The title meant that Dalglish was only the fourth football manager in history to lead two different clubs to top-flight league championships, after Tom Watson, Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough.
Replacing King Kev on Tyneside
After that title success of 1995, Dalglish retired as Blackburn manager and moved into a Director of Football role where he would be replaced by his assistant Ray Harford. He left the club for good a year later.
In January 1997, he took over at Newcastle United, replacing Kevin Keegan who had abruptly resigned. Dalglish’s impact at Newcastle was limited. He did guide them to a runners-up spot in the 1996-1997 league campaign and spearheaded a famous victory over Barcelona in the following season’s UEFA Champions League group stage. However, he sold the likes of David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Lee Clark, replacing them with veterans Stuart Pearce, Ian Rush and John Barnes.
Two games into the 1998-1999 season, he left the club. It is still unknown whether he resigned or was sacked. Either way, it is the only managerial period of his career which didn’t bring any silverware or much positive impact.
He went back to his first club Celtic and had a brief spell as manager there after Barnes was fired following a shambolic home League Cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Leaving in the summer of 2000, it would be another decade before Kenny was back in the dugout.
The second coming
In April 2009, Dalglish returned to Liverpool FC, taking a role within the club’s youth academy. He also became a club ambassador. When Rafa Benitez quit in June 2010 after relations with the American owners deteriorated, Dalglish expressed a desire to return to the management post. However, it was Fulham boss Roy Hodgson who got the job.
As soon as the fans got wind of the news that Dalglish had shown interest in the role, Hodgson was toast. Liverpool’s form was terrible and they looked like being involved in a relegation scrap as 2011 began. Hodgson left after a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn which was the club’s ninth defeat of the Premier League season. 24 hours after returning from a holiday in Dubai, Dalglish returned as caretaker manager until the end of the season. After losing his first match back; an FA Cup tie at Manchester United, he admitted it was “a big challenge.”
In the early weeks of his second coming, Fernando Torres was sold for a British transfer record to Chelsea but in came Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. Performances started to improve and so did results. There were impressive wins over Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City and a 5-2 battering of Fulham at Craven Cottage. By the end of the season, Dalglish had signed a three-year deal to remain as manager and he guided the club to a respectable sixth in the final standings. A pretty good return considering he’d taken over with the club 13th and just four points clear of the drop zone.
In the summer of 2011, Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy and Jordan Henderson were among the new recruits. Despite some frustrating draws at Anfield, the Reds’ strong away form meant they sat fifth at the turn of the year. However, they faded badly in the second half of the campaign and ended a distant eighth in the table, even below Merseyside rivals Everton. It was their worst Premier League points’ return in a 38-game season. Dalglish’s strong defence of Suarez after he was involved in a racism incident with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra was criticised and apologises only made after the owners insisted. He did win the League Cup on penalties in 2012 but three days after the season ended, Dalglish was sacked and replaced by Brendan Rodgers.
He is still an Anfield club hero and is now on the board at Liverpool as a non-executive director. Kenny Dalglish achieved so much in the game of football. His honours’ list means he will go down as one of British football’s most successful players and managers.