There has been no other Liverpool manager I've wanted to succeed more than Kenny Dalglish, when he returned to rescue us from the desperately dark but mercifully short reign of Roy Hodgson. I'd grown up on the stories of King Kenny, for so many the Reds' greatest player, a three-time league championship winner as manager, and the man who sacrificed his own health, and ultimately the job he loved, for the people of Liverpool in the aftermath of Hillsborough. He was back to finish the job he'd started and left in 1991, and what a story it would've been if he could've taken us all the way back to the top.
Likewise, there are few who will have as much admiration and respect as I do for Rafael Benitez, both as a coach and as a person. Istanbul rightly makes him a legend alone, after which he developed the best Liverpool team since Kenny's last title winners, gave us another European final and took us so close to the promised land of number 19. His departure under the cloud of Hicks and Gillett's ownership was one of the lowest points of a low period in the club's history.
There are plenty of fans who will share one or both of these opinions with me, but this is not a piece debating whether or not either man should've been removed from their posts at Anfield in the first place. The problem is so many chose to use them as sticks to beat Brendan Rodgers and FSG with, ignoring any progress on or off the pitch, casting aside results and twisting any interpretation of events to fit their agenda - that one of the aforementioned legends should be manager today, and that the club is lost without them. They also have one or two high profile sports journalists whipping them into a frenzy over the subject after every draw or defeat, every player bought or sold and every trophy missed.
I, for one, completely understand why FSG parted company with Kenny Dalglish, and likewise, why they did not approach Rafael Benitez to replace him, and I'd go as far to say I admire them for the brave decisions they took in the summer of 2012. At worst, this makes me a bad wool, which I can handle. But it has nothing to do with the coaching abilities of either, nor does it affect the place these two men have in this club's history, or suggest that I was happy to see either of them leave initially.
This is the reality of the situation that faced FSG at the end of the 2011-2012 season. Kenny Dalglish was never meant to be Liverpool's permanent long-term manager after he arrived to steady the ship that Hicks, Gillett, Purslow and Hodgson had seemed intent on consigning to its final chapter. The remarkable turnaround during the latter half of the 11-12 campaign led to Kenny rightly and respectfully being offered a relatively short extension on his temporary contract, and he would become a victim of his own success when league form took a severe nosedive during a campaign which would do more damage to Liverpool's image than any other in recent memory.
But why not, given the two cup final appearances, give him one more season? And if we absolutely have to turn our back on a legend, why not approach another, and a proven, modern manager to boot, to replace him?
FSG may not be experienced football men, but if their Boston Red Sox tenure hadn't already given them a rounded understanding of the fiercely political nature of top professional sports clubs, then the sales process of LFC alone would've been a severe eye-opener. They had been right to extend Kenny's stay given the impact he'd had on return, but they were now faced with an almost impossible decision with regards who they actually envisaged as the right man to take this club forward for the next decade and more.
Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Martinez would've been FSG men, managers they were responsible for hiring, overseeing, advising and perhaps firing. Kenny Dalglish was our man. Rafael Benitez too, was our man. Not just in the sense that they were our first and second choice managers, but they were also kindred spirits amongst the Kop, club legends and idols, more than just trophy winners and technical achievers. They are not exempt from balanced criticism, but they are rightly untouchable in status.
To employ either, is for FSG to place a divide up between themselves and us fans before a ball is kicked, and we would be keeping the manager for ourselves and our battles. Rafael Benitez had already been a key figure in our protests and forcing-out of Hicks & Gillett - while the complexities of the financial situation of the club didn't always translate to the man in the stand, their treatment of a European Cup winning manager did, and as such he was the obvious focal point. Having already decided, painstakingly, that Kenny Dalglish was never going to be the long-term manager within an FSG structure, Rafael Benitez was never going to stand a chance in the interview process. This was going to be FSG's selection, and their responsibility, who would be handed over to supporters for them to judge for themselves, rather than a man the owners must disproportionately raise their game for.
It was a shame, but it was understandable, and my personal feeling is that it could pay dividends in the future given the gradual progress we are seeing under Rodgers, which we can debate daily, unclouded by our affection for Dalglish and Benitez. My hope and belief is that Kenny will return to the club in an ambassadorial role one day, as and when the club is in a period of success so as not to spark rumours of him being groomed for another caretaker role. Rafa too, may one day be back at Anfield in some role or other, but for now I wish him all the best in his exciting job in Naples.
As I wrote a year ago, Rodgers made the perfect start to his Liverpool career by accepting Anfield's friendly ghosts, including Dalglish and Benitez, rather than distancing himself from them in the way that Hodgson did. It was a moment that made me feel the right decision had been made, despite a summer of anguish watching club legends pass us by.