Dalglish eager to face Sparta Prague
Kenny Dalglish may have conquered Europe as a Liverpool player but is honoured he now has the chance to lead them in continental competition as manager.
The 59-year-old won the UEFA European Cup three times in seven years in an era when the Reds dominated both at home and abroad. However, the ban imposed on English clubs after the Heysel Stadium disaster robbed him of the chance to extend that tally as a manager, having taken over from Joe Fagan after that fateful night in 1985.
He did eventually get to take sides into Europe when the exclusion was lifted, but Blackburn and Newcastle were nowhere close to being on the same level as the all-conquering team Dalglish played in. So 9,393 days after his first spell in the Anfield dugout began, Dalglish prepares to take charge of the Reds in Europe for the first time when they face Sparta Prague in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League.
"It is not the first time I should have qualified," he said. "The reason why I never managed [Liverpool in Europe] before was because the government, through FIFA, decided to ban us. We could have been up there challenging but we could only do what we were allowed to do and play in the competitions we were allowed to.
"We had some fantastic success and it was great credit to everyone involved then. Europe wasn't to be. Whether we'd have done well in Europe is hypothetical. People would discuss it but it was irrelevant.
"We just got on with it and in a way it helped us. Maybe if we'd have been involved in Europe we'd have tripped up in a few more games. That could have jeopardised our success. It is a great honour for me to be involved with Liverpool, irrespective of the competition, but to be involved in Europe gives that extra little plus."
Liverpool have travelled without Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger (both recovering from injuries) and Christian Poulsen, whose wife is expecting a baby. Record signing Andy Carroll has also travelled but his involvement will purely be on a training and integration basis as he continues his recovery from a thigh problem.
Sparta captain Tomas Repka is slightly disappointed he will not be facing Fernando Torres tomorrow. The former West Ham defender has yet to beat the Reds after one draw and three defeats during his spell in the Premier League.
Since the draw was made in December, Repka had been gearing up for a head-to-head battle with the Spain international - only to have those hopes dashed by his £50million transfer to Chelsea.
And with Gerrard also absent tomorrow, the 37-year-old believes Liverpool are weaker now than when he faced them for the Hammers. "Although they are pretty strong, when I was there (England) not only were they strong but they appeared in the UEFA Champions League and the number of big names was larger than today," he said.
"Our young players won't be overawed. Although there is some respect for the opposition - which they have earned - I don't think there is too much time for much humility or being scared. I was looking forward to a confrontation with Torres but it will be OK. I hope to improve my record against Liverpool."