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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Old jokes still raise a giggle in Premier League comedy clubs

Dion Fanning

Published 23/01/2011 | 05:00

When you are Gerard Houllier and you have, in your career, signed off on the purchases of Djibril Cisse, El-Hadji Diouf and Emile Heskey, then last week was a good bit of business.

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Houllier introduced Darren Bent to Aston Villa by comparing him to Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba.

When you have signed Djibril Cisse, El-Hadji Diouf and Emile Heskey, they all must look like Wayne Rooney.

In fact, when you have signed Djibril Cisse, El-Hadji Diouf and Emile Heskey, Bent looks like Rooney, Drogba, Jimmy Greaves, Tommy Lawton and Just Fontaine rolled into one. But with more ruthlessness in front of goal.

Bent may be a limited player and he may only score a certain type of goal but the problem for Emile Heskey has never been a certain type of goal. It has been any type of goal.

Houllier paid £11 million for Heskey more than ten years ago so, when you look at it like that, Darren Bent is value for money. At £24 million, he's a bargain.

When you then move on to consider the inability of Djibril Cisse to understand the offside rule, then Bent, with a rudimentary grasp of it, looks like the deal of the century.

Of course, this is without even touching upon El-Hadji Diouf which has always seemed the wisest course of action. This is despite his alleged "niceness" which I mentioned a few weeks ago but which now looks like the height of insanity (although I can report that I witnessed a journalist knock a chair into the back of Diouf's knees in the press room at Stamford Bridge last weekend. The journalist apologised several times. "No problem," Diouf replied, very nicely each time. The enigma remains).

What is not in doubt is that Houllier should rarely be allowed to spend money on a striker. There was another way of looking at last week's signing and that was that Gerard Houllier has gone a little bit mad. He seemed crazed last week when he introduced Bent to the press, reading from a prepared script and sounding more like some mid-management executive at a hotel chain which had just earned Bent's endorsement than a football man.

Houllier is now in the selling business and he always is pushing one product: himself. So last week was a triumph. Randy Lerner was trusting him with his money so by definition he was a little bit further away from the sack.

He had lost his air of mystery and without it he just looks like an eejit. His attempt to blame Sunderland's reaction on some anti-French feeling was typical of this new persona. He suggested this as a reason then, when asked to confirm it, he replied 'no'. Asked then if he had been joking he said, "Yes . . . in a way . . . thank you." No, thank you.

Houllier had the look of a desperate man last week. His comment about Bent's goalscoring record on his debut should not have been said by a pr flunkey, let alone the manager.

Houllier has misread every situation since he arrived in Birmingham so he probably shouldn't look so sure about his position. He reflected after the defeat to Sunderland a couple of weeks ago that if Villa had won "the fans would have been chanting my name" which would have been one of his classic unprovable hypotheses if it wasn't totally preposterous.

The Villa fans are a long way from chanting Houllier's name and Houllier can't blame anyone for that but himself.

Sunderland are also looking for someone to blame. "I did have the utmost respect for Mr Houllier but I haven't had a call," Bruce said. "There are only 20 of us. We know how hard it is. I'd have expected him to have the decency to pick up the phone but that's not been the case."

Bruce was talking about the 20 Premier League managers which is not a select enough grouping for Houllier. He was recently reminding people how he was in the gang of four managers under pressure which is now down to three after Roy Hodgson's dismissal.

Avram Grant was one of the four and he remains in his job too, somehow on the brink of folk hero status as he steers West Ham expertly towards relegation.

Grant has the good fortune to work for Sullivan and Gold, one of football's traditional vaudeville acts and a handy reminder that is not the nationality that matters in owners but their temperament.

Sullivan & Gold are back in the east end of London where it all began, eyeing a move to the Olympic Stadium and trying to back out of working with the man they appointed in the summer because they believed in experience and Grant had it.

"I like him very much. He's completely the opposite of what I imagined," Sullivan said last summer.

"I imagined a dour, boring, serious man with no humour," Sullivan said, selling Avram hard.

"In fact he's got a very dry sense of humour with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of football. Wonderful. He tells jokes and stories. He's led a full life and he's learned from that."

Grant has learned how to manoeuvre around a boardroom with his wonderful jokes and stories, although given the mess Sullivan & Gold made of sacking him and bringing in Martin O'Neill, he can't find it that difficult.

He is keeping quiet too, aware that they moved against Gianfranco Zola when they decreed he had breached his contract. Zola had reacted to comments from the owners that the entire squad was for sale.

Grant has stayed quiet, keeping public remarks to a minimum and acquiring a sort of dignity that he would not have earned if the owners had gone about things properly.

He has left them to make fools of themselves, while he keeps his dry sense of humour to himself. On Friday, West Ham were linked with El-Hadji Diouf. Another one of Avram Grant's funny stories.

dfanning@independent.ie

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