Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was roundly chastised last week for suggesting that Liverpool's season, by every other measure than Premiership points, had been a success. The Reds sit in eighth position on the Premier League table after a forgettable 2012 that has seen them take only eight points from their twelve fixtures since the turn of the year.
Although a peculiar statement, the fact is that he could be right. The Kop legend just failed to articulate his sentiments correctly – everything depends on your definition of “success”.
Broadly speaking, all sports fans want to see one of two things from their club: present success or promise for the future. There's scant, if any, middle ground. If a club isn't on the threshold of achievement (whether than be team harmony, staying in a division, avoiding liquidation or securing a title) then fans must see management putting structures into place that will realise ambition.
Those structures, as Dalglish rather ineloquently posited, could be on-field – such as new players, value-for-money signings or a team adjusting well to a new style or set of tactics. They could also come from the boardroom, like the now-infamous kit deal.
However, clubs can only trade on hope for so long before it becomes fatuous. The confounder therefore is supporter expectation, a notoriously difficult and formless concept.
Despite an improved squad and a collapsing percentage of achieved points (his ratio has decreased from last term's 61% to 45% this season), Scouse fans should feel their icon's major failing has not been mismanagement of players but of fan expectation. With the arrival of Bellamy, Carroll, Adam, Downing, Henderson, Doni, Enrique and, ultimately and definitively, Luis Suarez, Reds could well have expected a Champions League challenge – at least.
For that to occur the team would have had to have gelled instantly and avoided all controversy and injury. All three were highly unlikely. Though he's been lost/lazy/awful at times, Carroll still has the potential to the league's best big forward, and I defy suggestion that Henderson and Adam won't at least be serviceable. However, all three depend upon being deployed correctly. There remains plenty of promise for the future, if thosee talents boasting “Standard Chartered” on their chests are aptly harnessed.
Sponsorship and stability should be prized as well - if not perhaps more so than finishing above Everton, or winning the League Cup. Dalglish, in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, could quite rightly say "What I said was true ... from a certain point of view".
Dalglish began trading on instant achievement when, with Carroll and Henderson struggling, Bellamy crocked and Suarez, well, controversial, the club were better placed to plug the promise of seasons to come for one more year.
How this would have gone over with his superiors is anyone's guess, but with squad expenditure since January last year topping out over ₤85 million, indications are that success had become th expectation. However, and by whoever, the suggestion that the club was placed to succeed now, rather than after a short seasoning period, has placed Dalglish's stiffening neck in a tightening noose.