Premier League - Early Doors: Is Comolli scapegoat for Dalglish failure?

Fri, 13 Apr 08:03:00 2012

Is Damien Comolli really a scapegoat for Kenny Dalglish's failure, or is he more of a sacrificial lamb?

FOOTBALL Former Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli - 0

ED is the first to admit that its 'exclusive sources' are dubious at best, but it did hear some weeks ago that Kenny Dalglish had all-but decided to step aside in the summer, apparently disillusioned with the nature of modern football management (and the evil media) in England.

It is with some irony that such rumours would be generated by the same Premier League hype machine that Dalglish blames for the whole Luis Suarez affair - the same Premier League hype machine that predecessor Roy Hodgson felt contributed to his early demise.

The general feeling is that Comolli has paid the price for a relatively disastrous outlay of over £100 million on 11 players, of whom only two - Jose Enrique (£5m) and Craig Bellamy (free) - have proved value for money: a fine player Suarez may be, but the goal and assist return has been relatively light for his undoubted talent and £27m transfer fee.

Indeed, as ED's colleagues highlighted yesterday, the return on the vast majority of those signings has been terrible, no more so than Anglo-flop trio Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.

In November 2010, Damien Comolli was initially employed to assist Hodgson, although the Englishman was gone in two months. The brief was - and remained after Dalglish was named manager - simple: buy in the best available British talent, even if you have to pay slightly over the odds, bearing in mind FIFA's desire to localise squads. And feel free to garnish the local pie with a top foreigner or two.

Yes, £35m for Carroll, £20m for Downing and £16m for Henderson was far too much: in a free market unbiased by the scarcity of domestically-produced attacking talent, they would have been available for around half those amounts.

But the scale of these flops has been inflated almost exponentially by just how poorly they have performed - and that is, unfortunately, all down to coaching and management.

ED will not attempt to compare the performances of Suarez and Sebastian Coates with previous seasons as they are still adapting to a more difficult league, while the divisive nature of Dalgish's handling of the Suarez controversies generate a smokescreen that clouds any attempts at civilised discourse. But looking at the players with domestic experience, the stats do not make good reading.

Carroll, it has been pointed out, has only managed six league goals in 37 appearances at Liverpool; yes, many have been from the bench, but that is a goals-per-appearance ratio of 0.16. In half a Premier League season at Newcastle, his turnover was 360% higher. And his dominant performances in the Championship, as a teenager, mean he is surely more than a flash-in-the-pan.

Downing, meanwhile, has infamously contributed no goals and no assists in the league this season: but the England winger scored or created an average of eight Premier League goals per campaign at inferior opposition over the previous seven years. His previous worst return of five assists - which would place him level with Frank Lampard and Clint Dempsey this season - came when Middlesbrough were relegated; he has hit double figures three times. This season has been some regression, and at some speed.

Henderson, meanwhile, was clearly bought with the future in mind but even he appears to have gone backwards under Dalglish, struggling to get on the ball in most of his 31 appearances and only finding the net once. Again, he was around twice as effective for a struggling Sunderland team.

There have been a few success stories - Liverpool have been fine defensively and Enrique was always going to be a good signing at that price, while Bellamy would play well in a swamp if it had channels to run.

There have also been a few ho-hums - Charlie Adam was bought as back-up to Steven Gerrard, nothing more, and Coates may well become a top player.

But, for whatever reason or reasons and in spite of the employment of Steve Clarke, Dalglish has failed to get even close to the best out of these players.

We should also recall that Comolli made a similarly large number of signings at Spurs, signings who came good in spectacular fashion - however, they were initially mis-managed by Juande Ramos, and both were sacked.

When the King returned ED was extremely suspicious of the effect he could have, short of the initial confidence boost and his undoubted motivational skills for the biggest matches.

However, he hadn't coached for the best part of a decade, at a time when techniques in football management have developed and continue to develop with alarming rapidity.

The moment Liverpool's owners turned to Dalglish - partly in panic after the fan backlash over Hodgson's admittedly slow start - they were on a hiding to nothing: Kenny was never going to oversee anything more than a couple of Cup runs and the odd win over Manchester United et al. And the Scot is so untouchable that, when the wheels inevitably came off, they would be crippled by the fear of full-scale revolt if he was sacked.

Many of the newspapers and reader comments have called Comolli a scapegoat for Liverpool's failures: ED would like to tweak that theory.

The Frenchman is more than that - he is a sacrificial lamb to pave the way for Dalglish's sideways move this summer, as John Henry simply cannot sack him, even if the fans know he isn't up to it.

That would suit everyone - Kenny moving upstairs, a big-name appointment swiftly following - but his influence will still hang heavy over any coaching appointment.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think it's happened a lot of times, big players have had a big impact on big games but anyone can be the hero on the day. It's one of those occasions that's set up so well for heroes. Big games, big heroes - let's hope they're in red shirts. This is not only a semi-final is it? It is a semi-final against Everton. For everyone at this club and everyone at Everton this is massive. I'm not going to play it down because everyone knows how big it is for me and everyone at the club. " - Steven Gerrard needs a hero for Saturday's FA Cup clash with Everton.

FOREIGN VIEW: Juventus were fined for what seems like the umpteenth time over fan racism. On this occasion it was a 30,000 euro penalty and a warning, although ED is pretty sure they were slapped with a similar sanction only last month. The opposition this time? Lazio.

COMING UP: We have live commentary of Southampton and Reading's Championship title clash, while Jim White and Paul Parker will give their views of the week's football and the upcoming weekend action. We also have a Fantasy Football chat at 3pm.

Early Doors / Eurosport

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