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Kenny Dalglish knows Liverpool 'progress' must not be allowed to stall

Luis Suárez is a hit, Fernando Torres a flop so far at Chelsea and Andy Carroll has scored his first England goal.

Kenny Dalglish knows Liverpool 'progress' must not be allowed to stall No wonder "progress" is the mantra at Anfield as Kenny Dalglish prepares to take Liverpool to West Bromwich Albion, where Roy Hodgson found refuge from the swirl of blame that blew him away from Merseyside.

Liverpool's coup in attracting Suárez and Carroll was surely the greatest zero-balance transfer trade in Premier League history. Out went the trudging and disaffected Torres (and Ryan Babel) and in came a Uruguayan with electrifying spacial awareness and a kind of Alan Shearer on steroids who could yet restore the standing of the giant English No9.

Carroll was not answering the call of the Mersey so much as the desire of his loss-making hometown club to snatch the £35m before Liverpool ceased to be cash-rich from the Torres deal. But Suárez appears to have been motivated by an authentic urge to become a Liverpool player, which shows in his play. He ignored the Premier League table. Will others, this summer, and in January? These are the two big windows on John W Henry's ownership.

All the talk of recovery is music to the Kop. For it to be sustained, though, Liverpool will have to cull again this summer and attract the kind of player who may reasonably look at their final league position and balk if it fails to offer continental action. Dalglish – assuming his contract is sorted out – and Damien Comolli, who has a lot to prove as the newly promoted director of football, already know they will not be able to entice recruits with the promise of great Champions League nights at Anfield.

So Liverpool are a hard sell, for 12 months at least, but Suárez and Carroll certainly brighten up the brochure at a club where the goalscoring department had tumbleweeds blowing through it before the sale of Torres came to feel less like a tragedy than a catharsis.

The England setup is not somewhere the average Liverpool fan looks to for inspiration (many decline to look at it at all) but the sight of Carroll scoring against Ghana revived the hope on Merseyside that he will cause damage in the eight league games the club have left. "It is a great reward for his recuperation and it will give him a lift and kick him on further," Dalglish says. "He's got a wee bit to go before getting up to match fitness but he came in here for five and a half years, not two months."

Dalglish also insisted Carroll was "focused" on his task, rather than his pint, three days after Fabio Capello, the England manager, had warned him to drink less beer. King Kenny will recognise that kind of missive from his own playing days, when heroes were thirstier than they are allowed to be today, but he also appreciates Carroll's symbolic importance, as the most expensive English footballer, and the author of the biggest footprint on the road to recovery.

The clearing out of stowaways will freshen the air again this summer: players such as Insúa, Degen, El Zhar and Konchesky, who are all on loan. A measure of progress is that Lucas Leiva, a bete noire to many before this campaign, has improved dramatically and signed a contract extension. Steven Gerrard is on the way back and could feature at West Brom. Milan Jovanovic, a Rafael Benítez fancy who arrived in the short Hodgson era, will be shipped back out. Pepe Reina talks as if he wants to leave. Keeping the star goalkeeper is the biggest challenge within the existing squad.

A promising hardcore is in place: Reina, Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson, Lucas, Raul Meireles, Carroll, Suárez and Dirk Kuyt, who runs his legs into stumps. But it is far too small to sustain a title challenge, which is what makes the summer pivotal. Inside Anfield, though, they will tell you the financial outlook has been transformed by the club not having to dish out interest on the takeover debt piled up by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

All of which leaves the biggest issue unresolved: Dalglish's contract, and the demarcation lines between the manager and Comolli, the Minister for Moneyball in the new cabinet. The owners may take the view that extending Dalglish's deal is unnecessary before the season's end but the football industry is not keen on hesitation.

Already agents are lining up moves, players are studying options. Dalglish has already exploded the myth that 10 years away from the frontline are enfeebling. His first move was to restore old Anfield values from before the Benítez and Gérard Houllier eras. His next trick will be to move with the times. Signing Carroll and Suárez shows he can, and will, but the owners need to tell the industry he is their man and then go out and do some business.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Hayward, for The Guardian on Thursday 31st March 2011 17.04 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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