King Kenny relishing Reds’ Wembley return
Liverpool players celebrate a goal during the team’s 6-1 win over Brighton in the FA Cup. The Reds hope to win their first trophy in six years with the League Cup. AFP photoKenny Dalglish believes winning the League Cup may be a staging post to bigger things as Liverpool return to Wembley for the first time in 16 years to face Cardiff on Feb. 26.
After little more than a year since his emotional Anfield homecoming, Dalglish has overseen a steady improvement in the club’s fortunes with a first piece of silverware beckoning this weekend.
It is six years since Liverpool last won a major trophy -- the 2006 FA Cup against West Ham at Cardiff -- and the Merseysiders have not played in a final at Wembley since 1996.
Dalglish believes Sunday’s clash with Championship side Cardiff is reward for the unwavering support of the club’s fans during a period which has seen Manchester United overhaul the team as the most successful team in English football.
“It means a lot to myself but more importantly it means a lot to a lot of people who have had to endure a few years when we’ve not been there (to Wembley),” Dalglish said.
“For everyone who is connected with the club it is just reward for the loyalty and support they have shown.”
Dalglish is satisfied with the steady progress Liverpool have made since he assumed control last year following the arrival of new American owners the Fenway Sports Group after a protracted takeover battle.
“We have moved on from where we were last year, progressing in the FA Cup and the final of this cup and are four points behind fourth in place - this time last year we were nowhere near that,” he said.
“There is progress being made. For the players it is an indication of how well they have done so everyone is looking forward to it.
“We have a chance so we will do as well as we possibly can and we will try to progress the club and move forward.”
Dalglish believes Liverpool’s place in the final is reflects the club’s commitment to a competition which has lost its lustre over the past two decades.
“I don’t think it (the competition) has regained the credibility from years gone by,” said Dalglish.
“I think we have treated it with respect but the teams that have treated it with respect are few and far between. We have treated it very seriously.”
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard meanwhile will be fulfilling a boyhood dream when he finally leads his club out at a Wembley final.
Although Gerrard has produced memorable performances to win FA Cup and European Cup finals, he has never skippered Liverpool at Wembley.
“Every time I played for Liverpool at Cardiff and led the team out there, there was a bit of me thinking ‘if only this was Wembley’,” Gerrard said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we had some great days in Cardiff and I’ve got some fantastic memories of playing at the Millennium Stadium, but I’d have preferred to have won those trophies at Wembley.
“To finally get the chance to achieve that with Liverpool will be amazing. I’ve experienced both the old and the new Wembley and I can tell you it’s a very special place.”
Meanwhile Sunday’s final gives Cardiff, desperate to win promotion to the Premier League this season, the opportunity of seeing how they measure up against top-flight opposition.
Manager Malky Mackay believes the Wembley appearance reflects the transformation he has set about since taking over last summer from Dave Jones.
“It’s been hard work for a lot of people, getting key people into good positions and being allowed to do that,” Mackay said.
“Everyone’s parked their ego at the door and when you get that from a group of players, with a character and a determination, things go in the right direction.
“We’re going to the final to go and be competitive and make sure we do the best we can do for Cardiff City.
“It’s terrific for everyone at the football club and everyone should embrace it - be it a fan, a director, a staff member or footballer.”