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MATT LAWTON INTERVIEW: Houllier - I felt dead at Liverpool... now I'm alive again

By MATT LAWTON

Chief Football Correspondent

Last updated at 1:32 AM on 20th November 2010

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Gerard Houllier spoke my football language. He just did it in a foreign accent, but he was the best ‘British’ manager I’ve worked with.

Illness cruelly deprived him of the sharp judgment that had led to swift early progress, but for three years he was a great Liverpool manager. My memory isn’t tainted by the last two years of his reign.

I appreciate what he did for me before his heart operation intervened, before the dark days. It was a tragedy for him. If he hadn’t fallen ill, he might still be Liverpool manager today.

He became a pale imitation of the man who had taken on the most powerful player at the club.

- Jamie Carragher in Carra, My Autobiography

 

Roaring back: Houllier feels as fit now as before heart problems blunted his skills at Liverpool in 2001

Gerard Houllier agrees. Agrees that the manager who guided Liverpool to six trophies, who revitalised a club in dire need of his French revolution, was a very different animal to the one who limped on after the ‘accident’ that nearly killed him.

Agrees his players worked under two very different men in his six years at Anfield. While the original version was untouchable, in his words ‘indestructible’, the one who had suffered a dissected aorta was seriously wounded and tired.

So exhausted, in fact, that his judgment became impaired. He admits for the first time, in what is his first major interview as the new manager of Aston Villa, that he did make poor signings.

 

Guiding light: Houllier with Carragher during their days at Liverpool

Just as he admits that the reason for his departure from Anfield was because his employers no longer ‘trusted’ him.

‘I think Rafa Benitez had been lined up to replace me for some time,’ he says.

But as he sits in his smart office at Villa’s training ground, wearing a broad smile having just welcomed Robert Pires to the club, there is not a hint of bitterness in his voice.

Partly because the good memories still far outweigh the bad, because of players like Carragher, and partly because he can appreciate why Liverpool made the change. His mistake, he concedes, was coming back too soon. Far too soon.

It was while watching his Liverpool team play Leeds in October 2001 that the accident happened. But after 11-and-a-half hours of major heart surgery that followed that day, he was back at his desk within five months.

‘For an operation like that, I probably needed 11-and-a-half months off,’ says Houllier.

‘But I came back sooner because we were at a critical stage of the season. We were trying to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League. We were in the title race.

‘I spoke to Phil Thompson and I thought, “If I can make five per cent of a difference it has to be worth it”. We still finished second in the Premier League. But in the March I felt dead. I was so tired.

‘Maybe if I had waited another four or five months it would have been different. I wasn’t right. I think some of the signings I made weren’t good, because I was tired.

'I made better signings at Lyon, that’s for sure.’

'Frank Lampard said what a player needs from his boss is tough love. He’s right.'

 

He believes it was not until he was at Lyon, guiding them to a second successive French league title, that he completed his recovery, five years after the accident.

‘It took that long,’ he says.

‘Oh yeah. I did not feel better until the second year in Lyon. Only then did I feel normal again, like my old self. I don’t know if the illness cost me the job at Liverpool. I think they did have an agenda.

'I think they had it tied up a long time before. And why? I don’t think they trusted me. When you recruit players, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t.

‘But I don’t feel bitter. I don’t feel resentment. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt like there was unfinished business in English football. That’s not why I’m here at Aston Villa now.

'I had a great time with Liverpool and when I go there they are very nice to me.’

For Villa to appreciate the manager they have, it is worth revisiting the first period of his tenure at Anfield and the reasons why players like Carragher remain such admirers.

In that same excellent autobiography, Carragher writes of how he will jump to Houllier’s defence if ever he hears a fan denigrating his memory.

Even if he does highlight the signings of El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou as evidence of Houllier’s decline. Carragher also writes of an incident that occurred during Houllier’s first year at the club.

 

Father-figure: Houllier hopes Pires can help nurture Villa's talented kids

It concerned Paul Ince, then the club’s influential skipper and someone the Frenchman did not see as a particularly positive influence in the dressing room.

Liverpool had travelled to Old Trafford for an FA Cup tie and, having not won such an encounter in ‘67 years’, they found themselves a goal up with 20 minutes to go courtesy of a young Michael Owen.

Until, that is, their captain and midfield enforcer left the field because of an injury. An injury, Houllier noted, that did not stop him playing five-a-side in training two days later. In front of all the players at the training ground, an extraordinary altercation occurred.

In true Sir Alex Ferguson fashion, Houllier not only told Ince what he expected of his captain but informed him that in six months he had won just four of those five-a-side training games.

 

The Guv'nor: Paul Ince was allowed to leave by Houllier

Ince stood there in stunned silence and, as the players walked away, Owen turned to Carragher and said: ‘We’ve got a manager now.’

Houllier is not terribly comfortable talking about the incident but he does explain his position. ‘It wasn’t something I did very often,’ he says.

‘But to me a captain only leaves the team on a stretcher; if he needs to go to hospital. He’s not limping off. That day I decided I wouldn’t keep Ince, and as soon as he left the players like Danny Murphy, Steven Gerrard, Owen and Carra blossomed.

'They were different players. It’s important, when you have kids in the team, to have the right people around them.

‘A year later I brought in Gary McAllister.’

And he became their Eric Cantona, I suggest.

‘Exactly,’ he says.

‘It is for the same reason that Alex keeps Scholes and Giggs, why I have brought Pires here. And Gary, of course, as assistant manager.

‘The players here can learn from Robert. From his brain. From his professionalism on and off the pitch. The fact that he is still able to play at 37 should tell my players something.

‘When I told Carra he needed to change, that he needed to stop drinking, I remember what I said to him. If you love the game, and he loves the game, you want to play for as long as you can.

'If you keep drinking you will get to 25, 26 and get injury after injury. He listened and he is still playing today.’

I ask Houllier what Carragher meant when he called him a ‘British’ manager. He laughs.

‘I think he means several things,’ he says.

‘Nearer to the players than some foreign managers. Nearer to the English culture. But at the same time, hard.

 

No I in team: Phil Thompson (right) stood in for Houllier after he underwent heart surgery

‘Frank Lampard probably summed it up best for me when he tried to explain what a player wants from a manager. “Tough love”.

'I think he said it after Scolari had left Chelsea. Maybe he thought Scolari was too soft on them.’

As a manager, Houllier says, he has three ‘missions’.

‘One is to deliver results. Liverpool had a tradition for winning silverware, so we had to do that. The second is to leave a legacy. The way you change things, improve things.

'A captain only leaves his team on a stretcher, not limping off. So I decided Ince had to go.'

'And the players and the team you leave. Here I am starting to change things. Even small things like the way we organise the dining hall. I have created an area where they can sit and watch TV.

'We have table football in there now. It is about creating an atmosphere. At Liverpool I made a contribution. I built the training ground. I built a team.

'The training ground took a lot out of me. So much work on top of the football. It probably affected my health.

‘But in my last season, remember, Liverpool still finished fourth. It is Rafa Benitez who won the Champions League the following season. It is his merit, but it was under me that they qualified.

'And they cannot say I did not leave them a team. I think 12 of the 14 players involved in Istanbul had been with me and it will live with me all my life how the players greeted me after the game.’

So what’s the third mission? ‘To make your players progress,’ he says.

‘And I think they did that. Danny Murphy improved. Emile Heskey improved. Michael Owen won the Ballon d’Or. I don’t think he realised how big it was at the time.

‘Steven Gerrard became a better player. So did Carra. Everyone improved. You need to improve your players and improve your team. Here I am now trying to get some players to step up another level.

 

Villa young things: Barry Bannan (right) and Marc Albrighton

'It requires hard work in training, and maybe a different style and a different regime, but I believe they can do it.

‘And we can bring on the young players, like Bannan and Albrighton, and develop them. I promoted them to the first team because I think they are talented, and they have seized their chance.

‘We still need to work with them but their loyalty to the club is fantastic. They have all grown up together here.’

He will demand that they live and work in accordance with his code.

‘I have four principles,’ he says.

‘Number one, respect. But respect means a lot of things. Respect the kit manager. Respect means you never tell the media “I should play” because that is a lack of respect for your team-mates and a lack of respect for the club and the manager who picks the team.

'Respect means respect the code that we have, in terms of timekeeping and discipline.

‘Second, be a winner, always. Train to win, work to win. And third, be a pro, a top pro, on and off the field.’ Fourth?

‘Think team first,’ he says.

‘Everything is done for the team, because together you can be unbreakable. Alone you are nothing.

'You win as a team. We are not here for ourselves. We are here for the team.

‘Today, in football, you find more mercenaries. I will not tolerate that. I only want players who are here for the team, who work for each other. Not all teams have it.

'Right now I am very much enjoying watching Blackpool because, boy, they work for each other.’

At Villa, he has had problems, with John Carew and Stephen Ireland in particular.

‘Carew was stupid,’ he says.

‘There was a press conference and I was full of praise for him. The way it appeared in Norway, I don’t know. Maybe my words were twisted. But when I read that he had spoken to the press in Norway and said it was a lack of respect, I couldn’t say anything else other than that he was stupid.

 

New chapter: Houllier takes the reins at Aston Villa

‘I brought it up with everyone in the changing room, and because we had it on tape we played the tape. And he then understood and apologised.

‘Regarding Steve Ireland, yes, I was not happy. But I wanted him to react. He has some talent but he is not totally with us at the moment. He needs to contribute more.

'He is not ready to sacrifice for the team. And it is all about the team.’

It is because of the team that Houllier is back, working with the team, working with players. He had a very nice life in Paris with his wife, Isabelle, working as the technical director for the French federation.

 

Indestructible: Gerard Houllier says he's back to form

‘My mistake was not taking a team,’ he says.

‘In the past I had taken junior teams and I should have done it again. It was a brilliant job at the federation but I would get depressed, not being out on the pitch.

‘At first, when Villa came to me, I did say no. But my wife wanted me to be happy, and once I had spoken to the chairman and the chief executive I fell in love with the club. And the training ground is already here.’

More important than that, though, is the fact that, at 63, he feels 54 again. The guy who won the ‘five trophies’ in 2001 prior to his accident.

‘I felt indestructible then,’ he says.

‘I look after myself better now. When I need a rest, I take one. I listen to my body. I delegate more.

'And I’m wiser. I used to worry about the things that were being written; that were being said by former players. Now I think I was stupid.

‘But I look at Alex (Ferguson), who is 68, and I feel good. He is right. As long as your health allows you to continue, I think you should.

'And as you get older, and this is very important, you enjoy it more.’

He is the manager Carragher would once again recognise.

 

 

 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1331424/Gerard-Houllier--I-felt-dead-Liverpool--Im-alive-again.html#ixzz15o0tF7EW

Edited by David Hodgson
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That is a good interview, especially the bits about us.

 

Why's he hung Ireland out to dry? What's gone on?

 

He's not running, playing like the rest are there to carry his water, probably still sulking about his fall from two seasons back to being unwanted and thinking he's better than Villa.

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He's not running, playing like the rest are there to carry his water, probably still sulking about his fall from two seasons back to being unwanted and thinking he's better than Villa.

So it is just performance? He's not said anything.

 

I know he's a d****ead and he doesn't help himself but I feel a little sorry for Ireland. I'd probably hate him if he played for us and was like that mind. But he really was a massive victim of Gary Cook's ongoing commitment to bulls*** (just like Big Dickie Dunne who is a great lad).

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So it is just performance? He's not said anything.

 

I know he's a d****ead and he doesn't help himself but I feel a little sorry for Ireland. I'd probably hate him if he played for us and was like that mind. But he really was a massive victim of Gary Cook's ongoing commitment to bulls*** (just like Big Dickie Dunne who is a great lad).

 

From what Ged had said and seeing him once or twice, you could see it. Not heard of him saying anything, it was clear from Ged, dropped for not trying hard enough, and what he said just there about not being 'with them', the 'probably' about why is my take.

 

I maintain City were on the right road under Sven, like you say going for big names, or rather big transfer fees has stripped them of any spiritual core. They are now Tevez(who they got lucky with, bought to piss off Utd, turns out to be their talisman) and 20-odd mercenaries.

 

Nice tones from Ged, nice to see him at peace and at terms with his time here.

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I liked him and still do, he says some good things but he doesnt do him self any favours by looking to get some, any almost, credit for the cl win.

 

Nobody likes to be told they left behind a pile of s****, think he sees it as vindication he didn't, others might talk of the value they left. Clearly didn't go down well in a lot of quarters though and was more than bit cheeky going in the dressing room.

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Nobody likes to be told they left behind a pile of s****, think he sees it as vindication he didn't, others might talk of the value they left. Clearly didn't go down well in a lot of quarters though and was more than bit cheeky going in the dressing room.

 

All true, but I'm still filing that under 'Houllier-the wilderness years'. Reading that, you kinda wonder what might have happened without his illness.

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All true, but I'm still filing that under 'Houllier-the wilderness years'. Reading that, you kinda wonder what might have happened without his illness.

 

The what ifs, we've got a lot on this forum, be it 'without illness' or 'with proper backing', but then you have events, events.

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All true, but I'm still filing that under 'Houllier-the wilderness years'. Reading that, you kinda wonder what might have happened without his illness.

His tactics and approach to the game would have kept us at the level he got us to but I don't think he would have won either the league or the cl. He was well backed at Lyon and did well in their league but came up short in the cl.

 

 

He'll get villa playing ok and I hope he can have some success there, not at our expense tho.

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His tactics and approach to the game would have kept us at the level he got us to but I don't think he would have won either the league or the cl. He was well backed at Lyon and did well in their league but came up short in the cl.

 

 

He'll get villa playing ok and I hope he can have some success there, not at our expense tho.

 

They did well in the CL under Houllier. In 2002 we were 2nd and playing really good stuff at times. I remember that 6-0 win at Ipswich and thinking that we were seeing the next phase of his plan, but it never really got the chance to unravel. I don't know if he would gave won either of those trophies but he was adept in Europe. In our first CL campaign under him we were 5 mins off a semi final against a Man U team that we were better than that season. The UeFA cup win had shown he knew how to win in Europe.

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Ged for me goes into the same category as his best mate Carra: thanks for some wonderful service but can you now please go away as u are clearly more concerned with yourself & your own legacy than Liverpool Football Club. Still comes across as a complete narcissist in that interview so nothings changed.

Edited by Ronnie#5
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Nobody likes to be told they left behind a pile of s****, think he sees it as vindication he didn't, others might talk of the value they left. Clearly didn't go down well in a lot of quarters though and was more than bit cheeky going in the dressing room.

 

Maybe, but there is a reason why the first thing Gerrard said to Rafa was "You don't know how sh*t we are?"

 

They did well in the CL under Houllier. In 2002 we were 2nd and playing really good stuff at times. I remember that 6-0 win at Ipswich and thinking that we were seeing the next phase of his plan, but it never really got the chance to unravel. I don't know if he would gave won either of those trophies but he was adept in Europe. In our first CL campaign under him we were 5 mins off a semi final against a Man U team that we were better than that season. The UeFA cup win had shown he knew how to win in Europe.

 

What you mean the meaningless game towards the end of the season when Ipswich had already been relegated?

 

And in 2003 he got his as* handed on a plate to him by none other than Senior Rafael Benitez.

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Good on Ged but everyone involved, players, fans and owners all knew at the time and all including himself freely acknowledge now that it was time for him to go.

 

Regarding Ireland, Ged is spot on. His head isn't there, his ego hasn't gotten over being drummed out of City. Whether he was unlucky to be chucked out at City is moot, he did a bit of grandstanding, thinking his position was stronger than it was. He needs to get the head down and get on with it now, as Dunner did.

 

 

 

 

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Maybe, but there is a reason why the first thing Gerrard said to Rafa was "You don't know how sh*t we are?"

 

 

 

What you mean the meaningless game towards the end of the season when Ipswich had already been relegated?

 

And in 2003 he got his as* handed on a plate to him by none other than Senior Rafael Benitez.

 

No the meaningful game when we were still in title contention. Your thinking of the one on the last day of that season where we won 5-0. Another good performance actually.

 

Thecteam that got turned over by Valencia was the post illness side. That's kind of the point of the observations in this thread.

 

Good on Ged but everyone involved, players, fans and owners all knew at the time and all including himself freely acknowledge now that it was time for him to go.

 

Regarding Ireland, Ged is spot on. His head isn't there, his ego hasn't gotten over being drummed out of City. Whether he was unlucky to be chucked out at City is moot, he did a bit of grandstanding, thinking his position was stronger than it was. He needs to get the head down and get on with it now, as Dunner did.

 

Course it was time for him to go. Perhaps it wouldn't have been had he stayed healthy. Who knows.

 

Please dont turn this into a Ged v Rafa issue. It clearly doesnt need to be.

 

Exactly.

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Ged for me goes into the same category as his best mate Carra: thanks for some wonderful service but can you now please go away as u are clearly more concerned with yourself & your own legacy than Liverpool Football Club. Still comes across as a complete narcissist in that interview so nothings changed.

 

 

Agree with this. Some of the stuff he has come out with over the years is embarassing (not just about Liverpool).

 

Disregarding the year he was ill our Prem points totals under him were 67, 69, 64 and 60. The football before he was ill was as boring and negative as the football after it. We were dreadful through those Cup runs when we won them scraping past lower division sides who battered us.

 

 

He left us in a poor state. The squad was bloated with second rate players on masive, long term wages. Some of his behaviour since has been questionable to say the least as has that of some of his French staff.

 

I'd still sooner have him than Hodgson (only just and as long as he had nothing to do with identifying transfer targets).

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GH did a very good job until 2002. Brought back a winning mentality and a team and work ethic. We won a lot in 2001 too. Was it the illness that led to his downfall? I dunno. I think his major error was not realising he was making mistakes. When Diao, Diouf and Cheyrou clearly did not work out, he did not seem ready to make changes in that regard.

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Agree with this. Some of the stuff he has come out with over the years is embarassing (not just about Liverpool).

 

Disregarding the year he was ill our Prem points totals under him were 67, 69, 64 and 60. The football before he was ill was as boring and negative as the football after it. We were dreadful through those Cup runs when we won them scraping past lower division sides who battered us.

 

 

He left us in a poor state. The squad was bloated with second rate players on masive, long term wages. Some of his behaviour since has been questionable to say the least as has that of some of his French staff.

 

I'd still sooner have him than Hodgson (only just and as long as he had nothing to do with identifying transfer targets).

 

No offense, but that is utter rubbish.

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