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Evening Times

FA CUP FINAL Dalglish animosity only harms himself Record seems stuck but Kenny could do with altered image

Evening Times:

Reported by Ronnie Cully

Senior Sports Writer

Published / News

KENNY DALGLISH enters the room, and the hush which occupies the space previously filled by nervous chatter from the assembled media speaks volumes.

It is not inspired by any reverential esteem in which the Liverpool manager is held, but by the apprehension which surrounds any occasion in which King Kenny is in front of cameras, microphones or journalists.

From a distance, the image which comes across via our TV sets or radios is one of a man who makes no attempt to hide his contempt for the media men trying to do what they are paid for, and who would rather be anywhere other than the same room as them.

Only contractual obligations prevent him absenting himself, and interviewers are always on edge, wondering which innocuous question or point made will bring forth the scowl and rebuke.

Of course, as uncomfortable as this makes it for the men holding the microphones, the real loser in all of this is the image of the man himself, and that of the club he represents.

The esteem in which Dalglish and Liverpool deserve to be held for all that they have achieved is severely damaged by what is widely perceived as nothing more than petulant and often rude behaviour.

Awaiting the start of the media conference ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup Final, it's difficult not to think back to the madness which marked the end of Dalglish's time in charge of Celtic.

With rookie boss John Barnes gone following a disastrous Scottish Cup exit to Inverness Caely Thistle and a failure to mount a sustained challenge to Rangers in the title race, the legend was left to present the public face of the troubled club.

At a time when he needed to get people behind him and solicit support, Dalglishinstead elected to alienate many without any regard for the consequences.

Press conferences were held in bars and social clubs, and the reputation of the man was seriously sullied.

Twelve years on, it appears to be King Kenny against the world (or, at least the media world) all over again. His handling of the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra spat was misjudged, to say the least. But it was not an isolated incident.

Given how high a priority image and press relations are given in sport in America, quite what US owners John Henry and Tom Warner make of their manager's public persona is anyone's guess.

If it was against the backdrop of a championship-winning story, it might not be an issue. But Liverpool trail in eighth place in the Premiership, some 34 points behind the clubs from Manchester.

This week it has also been announced they have run up losses of just under £50million in the last financial year, during which they replaced Roy Hodgson with Dalglish and sanctioned the purchase of Andy Carroll for £35m.

The return has been the Carling Cup, with the possibility of the Budweiser FA Cup being added tomorrow, if they can defeat even-more-habitual-overspenders, Chelsea.

As if to provoke a reaction, Dalglish has thrown in from left field that league position is perhaps now overrated, and that winning cups should be considered more of a measure of achievement than it presently is.

"There's an obsession with the Premier League because of what it holds for every club and the financial value and the rewards you get for finishing in the top four," he proffered.

"But there's a satisfaction to winning a cup competition that you don't get from finishing fifth or sixth."

Quite what pearls of wisdom he will have for the post-cup final interviews, we can only imagine, although it is likely to be an uncomfortable wait for the club's PR men.

Attending Neil Lennon's press conference at Celtic Park just 24 hours before Dalglish met the media at Anfield provided a chance to compare and contrast how respective duties are approached.

Lennon – at 40, a mere novice at the management game – breezed in with a huge smile across his face, albeit influenced to a degree by his meeting a few minutes earlier with the Thai Tims from the Good Child Foundation.

As ever, he was courteous and helpful, with no subject out of bounds. If he chooses not to take the bait over certain matters, he remains polite and respectful that a journalist is simply trying to do his job.

It is behaviour which is all the more impressive given that Lennon believes he is demonised in the media for his behaviour when his passion and emotions during games boil over, something that has resulted in another six-game ban.

But compared to the court of King Kenny, an audience with Lennon is a wholly more professional, stable and enjoyable occasion.

At 61, and with a plethora of trophies both as a player and a manager behind him, Dalglish has nothing to prove to anyone.

But he does owe himself a better image, and a non-confrontational presence in front of the cameras at Wembley tomorrow– win or lose – would be a welcome start.

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