Dalglish returns to where he left off
The last time Kenny Dalglish stood in the Goodison Park dugout as Liverpool manager, he knew he was only days away from leaving a job that would ultimately take 20 years to get back.
Dalglish watched impassively as Liverpool carelessly cast aside the lead four times to draw in an FA Cup fifth-round replay at Everton that has taken its place in Merseyside derby folklore for events on and off the pitch.
It was Wednesday, 20 February 1991. Dalglish had already made up his mind to quit and events at Goodison Park - where he later admitted his trademark decisiveness deserted him during the game - only confirmed the decision in his own mind.
The next morning, broken by the pressures of an entire career spent dealing with the stresses of football at elite levels with Celtic and Liverpool - and the burden of guiding the Anfield club through the tragedy of Hillsborough and its emotional aftermath - he informed then chairman Noel White and chief executive Peter Robinson of his decision to resign.
Dalglish confirmed his departure at a press conference on the Friday morning and it appeared an iconic Liverpool figure had concluded his career at the club where he won eight league titles as player and manager, claimed the European Cup three times and won the Double in his first season as player-manager.
Kenny Dalglish will return to where his first spell at Liverpool ended. Photo: Press Association
On Saturday, refreshed, rejuvenated and leading the club into a new era of optimism under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group with a squad he has expensively restructured, Dalglish returns to the place where his first spell at Liverpool ended.
Dalglish's delight at being back at the helm since succeeding Roy Hodgson is rarely disguised but it would be no surprise if his mind drifts back a couple of decades when he walks up the tunnel at Goodison Park.
He has been back to Everton as manager with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United of course but Merseyside derbies are different and Dalglish's story within the fixture provides an historical context.
Jan Molby played in that fateful game. Indeed Dalglish later confessed his hesitation about whether to move the Dane back from midfield into defence that night helped to confirm his decision to leave.
Molby recalls: "The build-up to the game was normal. We spent our time in our hotel and there was no suggestion Kenny was considering his future.
"It was a crazy game and we couldn't believe how we didn't win it. We gave away some terrible goals and, when we got back to the dressing room, there was an altercation between [goalkeeper] Bruce Grobbelaar and [coach] Ronnie Moran over one of them.
"Kenny didn't get involved but he rarely did over things like that. He was very quiet but you assumed that it was just disappointment at drawing a game we should have won, not any indication there was something wrong.
"We had a day off on the Thursday and I remember we arrived at Anfield on the Friday as we were leaving early to train on Luton's plastic pitch. The whole place was alive with activity and the girl on the reception said she thought we were about to announce a major signing.
"When it became clear Kenny Dalglish was resigning it was total shock and disbelief around the whole club. The players were stunned, the whole club was in shock.
"If we had been told John Barnes had been sold we could have taken that in because that's football but Kenny leaving Liverpool was something else altogether. He was one of the greatest figures in the club's history and was in charge of a team at the top of the league and in the FA Cup. Nothing was broken.
"When the full reasons came out we totally understood. If he was not well he needed time to recover and he felt the best way to do that was to leave management - absolutely the right decision in his own best interests. He had made so many decisions in Liverpool's best interests that he was right to make one in his own if he was concerned about his health."
Even now, the day Dalglish left is remembered as if it was only an instant ago by those of us covering Merseyside football at the time.
As a reporter on the local morning newspaper, I recall taking a phone call from chief executive Robinson, the great Liverpool administrator, summoning us to Anfield with the words: "I know you joke about holding the back page but this time you should hold the front as well. It's quite sensational."
Dalglish, full of emotion at leaving the club he and his family grew to be an integral part of, made his announcement in Anfield's Bob Paisley Suite before driving his white Mercedes out of The Shankly Gates. It seemed he was now as much a part of Liverpool's past as his legendary predecessors.
Now he is back and attempting to write another chapter in his Liverpool story but, even in the sadness of his departure on that Friday, he was still keen to jealously guard the club's reputation.
Hearing on the Merseyside rumour mill - always fertile ground for gross misinformation - that he had actually left after a row with Liverpool's hierarchy, another more surprising call came into the newspaper office early on that Friday evening.
It was Dalglish, sounding relaxed, to tell me that the reasons he had cited for leaving, the increasing pressure that was starting to impact on his health, was simply the truth of the matter. And so it was. There was never a hidden agenda, no secret story that has never been told - there never was.
Molby says: "It was one of the most incredible, memorable days of my career and I am sure he will have a little think when he takes his place in the dugout at Goodison Park because I suppose he might have thought that [it] was the place where his career might be ending.
"If Kenny felt he had to walk away from a club he loved so much, then I suppose he must have wondered if he would come back anywhere else, which he then did so successfully at Blackburn."
Moments of black humour did emerge from the uncertainty - including one involving Dalglish's great friend, double-winning Liverpool captain and now Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen.
Molby says: "A couple of weeks later Alan Hansen came in and told us all he had been appointed player-manager. He told us we would now train on Sundays, we would go through videos time and again after games to see where we were going wrong, told us he was taking the captaincy off Glenn Hysen and giving it to Steve Nicol and that he knew every pub we drank in on the Wirral and in Southport and they were now all out of bounds.
"You can imagine the faces of everyone in the dressing room as he walked out. I bet he was listening at the door to hear what we all thought about him, which wouldn't have been nice, and then came back in a bit later to tell us he was actually retiring from the game and would not be involved with the club at all."
Unlike Hansen, Dalglish has returned to Liverpool and any old ghosts that may be lingering at Goodison Park will have been replaced by a fierce determination to give his Anfield story a happy ending.