Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, will be required to provide a full written report to the club’s American owners at the end of the season to explain an unacceptable league slump.
As part of a wide-ranging review into what has gone wrong during an appalling Premier League run, Dalglish, director of football Damien Comolli and assistant manager Steve Clarke will be called upon to dispatch a thorough debrief across the Atlantic. They are under no illusions that the current position is considered far below the expectations of the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group.
Each senior figure will be required to provide their insight into why a season that began with aspirations to qualify for the Champions League has rapidly deteriorated.
Most significantly, the trio will be asked to provide details of how they intend to rectify the problems that have led to the alarming dip in form in the past few months. Their proposed solutions will be just as important.
The pressure has intensified on Dalglish in recent weeks, with the team’s results since winning the Carling Cup undermining the feelgood factor the club’s first trophy in six seasons was meant to provide.
Defeat by Newcastle on Sunday was the most recent in a series of low points in the league. Liverpool have lost six of their past seven league games, during which time they have gone from top-four contenders to falling below rivals Everton.
FSG recognises the situation needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. There is no immediate threat to Dalglish’s position, but the imminent FA Cup semi-final with Everton, their league form and his response in the season review could decide whether the Anfield icon retains the trust of his board.
It is not the fact Liverpool have failed to qualify for the top four that is causing the greatest concern, but the perceived underperformance — particularly given the investment in the side last summer.
Privately, there is acknowledgement in Boston that aiming for the top four in Dalglish’s first season might have been too ambitious – there was a gulf between Liverpool and the Champions League clubs.
Liverpool’s home defeat by Arsenal a week after winning the Carling Cup was seen as the moment that top-four hopes vanished. But the disappointment was countered by consolation in knowing that the team was at least pushing hard to regain their top-four spot and were playing a better brand of football.
That optimism and tolerance has since evaporated owing to terrible results and erratic performances. The manner of the defeat against Newcastle, when the players appeared to give up the fight after going a goal behind, has been noted as much as the result itself.
FSG considers explanations such as bad luck and tiredness to be invalid.
Dalglish was appointed on a wave of popularity in Jan 2011. The club then said the decision to give him a three-year deal last May was a “no brainer” after he had transformed the form of the team and the mood at the training ground.
However, it was telling when the club’s principal owner, John W Henry, admitted that Dalglish was not FSG’s first choice. Combined with him having to wait for a permanent deal revealed concerns about giving him the job full time.
This season seemed to be going to plan following the Carling Cup win, even though there was ground to make up to the top four. Broadly speaking, there was satisfaction because the team had improved on last year.
Recent results and performances have dented that faith, but the damage is still considered reparable, especially with another trip to Wembley imminent.
FSG finds itself having to re-evaluate all aspects of the Merseyside branch of their operation. Comolli has spoken about putting in place foundations, creating a new scouting network and reviving the club’s academy, but such changes will take time before they yield results. Until then, there is no evidence that the acclaimed work behind the scenes is making any difference.
What can be judged is the impact of last summer’s signings and investment in the team, which has so far led to a worse league position. That is the most serious threat to Dalglish’s restoration plans.
For his part, Dalglish will want more investment in the squad to assist a fresh assault on the top four next season and is promising his signings will improve in their second year.
Unless he can reverse the terrible sequence of results, he will need to be at his most persuasive to convince the club’s owner that his confidence is not misplaced and he deserves more time.