Sad, uncomfortable but correct decision behind Liverpool’s last FA Cup final vs Chelsea

The Reds take on the Blues at Wembley again 10 years on from their last FA Cup final meeting, and a defeat led to a decision that wasn’t popular with everyone at the time

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Klopp previews Liverpool’s FA Cup final against Chelsea

Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup win over Cardiff City at Wembley – a scraped success courtesy of a penalty shootout – occupies something of a strange outpost in the club’s recent history.

It came six years after Rafa Benitez’s FA Cup, which in itself was just a year after Istanbul and still close enough to Gerard Houllier’s successes to feel like it was a part of something.

Yet it also would go on to represent the last trophy for seven years, until Jurgen Klopp overcame three final defeats to finally get his hands on the Champions League in Madrid in 2019.

It could have all been so different though.

Liverpool fans headed to Wembley hoping to see another trophy won under Dalglish


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Less than three months after that League Cup win came another trip to Wembley, the result of an FA Cup run which had seen Oldham, Manchester United, Brighton, Stoke and Everton all beaten en route, the latter also at the national stadium as Merseyside invaded London for the weekend.

Kenny Dalglish – in his first full season since replacing Roy Hodgson on an emergency basis in January 2011, and less than a year into the three-year contract he had signed after four months of feelgood factor – was in his element as he returned to a slightly modified stage to the one he used to grace as a player, manager and both.

But Dalglish’s smile and status were masking grave Liverpool issues.

The club had finished sixth in that season in which the Scot had taken over from Hodgson, and then would come eighth in this campaign. Eleven defeats in the last 19 league games of the season would see the Reds finish behind Everton and level on points with Fulham, with only that League Cup success securing European football.

Off the pitch things had been a mess too, with the early missteps of the FSG era often catching the club out.

Despite their popularity as they had replaced the hated Tom Hicks and George Gillett, there was a lack of visibility at the club, as well as accountability as the shameful response to Luis Suarez’s racism incident showed. Guidance was nowhere.

Dalglish saw his side beaten by Chelsea at Wembley



But here was Dalglish with a smile that said he was loving it all, and supporters loved him for it.

The trips to Wembley gave those fans terrific days out, particularly the Everton win, and it was true to say that many supporters found winning things under the Scot’s stewardship – just as they’d been told that Liverpool had done by giddy family members in the glorious years past – to be extra special.

But the danger was that the Reds were keeping their heads in the sand.

Their FA Cup final opponents Chelsea were the epitome of a club who achieved success by not being afraid to make bold changes, and they arrived into the Wembley final two months into the reign of their own club legend, Roberto Di Matteo, who had just guided them to the Champions League final.

Chelsea, although under questionable ownership, were every inch the modern club, and FSG would have known that these were the opponents Liverpool had to clamber over if they were to make their way back to the summit.

The Blues may have always operated on a hiring and firing basis, but at Liverpool the manager has always been king and FSG needed stability on the throne. Dalglish – then 61, and having taken on the role after more than 12 years away from full-time management – was really more of a monarch from the history books.

But he had that League Cup, and he was 90 minutes away from the FA Cup. This was happening now.

Didier Drogba scored Chelsea’s second goal at Wembley


Getty Images)

Who knows what would have happened had the Reds beat the Blues at Wembley? Had Ramires’ early effort not gone through Pepe Reina? Had Didier Drogba not scored his customary big game goal? Had Andy Carroll been able to follow up his fine earlier strike with a late header that beat Petr Cech and didn’t result in one of the most outstanding saves Wembley has ever seen?

But Liverpool lost, and 11 days after the cup final when the formalities of that eighth place league finish had been completed, Dalglish was dismissed.

“Kenny will always be more than a championship winning manager, more than a championship winning star player. He is in many ways the heart and soul of the club,” said owner John Henry in the warm and fuzzy bit of the statement.

Andy Carroll saw his late header brilliantly saved by Petr Cech


Mirror Screen Grab)

Tom Werner delivered the killer lines.

“Results in the Premier League have been disappointing and we believe to build on the progress that has already been made, we need to make a change,” said the chairman.

“We are committed to delivering success for our supporters and our ambition remains resolute to return this great club to the elite of England and Europe, where it belongs.”

Dalglish made clear his disappointment at the decision, and plenty of fans did too. It was clearly upsetting to see the Scot be dismissed having won one trophy and come pretty close to another.

Dalglish was to be dismissed 11 days later



But as Werner’s part of the statement made clear, that wasn’t enough.

Premier League and Champions League success had to be chased, and a decade on both of those mountains have been scaled once and both may still be scaled again in the next couple of weeks.

Brendan Rodgers was to come and lay the foundations for Klopp, and the German now enters Liverpool’s first FA Cup final in a decade absolutely certain of his position at the club and of Liverpool’s among the elite.

It may have seemed a harsh decision to dismiss Dalglish, but it was undoubtedly the right one.

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