Houllier denies attitude problem at Villa
Mutiny? What mutiny? Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier was caught between bemusement and amusement yesterday when he responded to claims that players at the relegation-threatened club were in revolt against a crackdown on indiscipline after the fracas involving Richard Dunne and James Collins at a health spa before the international break.
Houllier, who is confident that positive displays by Villa's England trio during the past week will provide momentum for the remaining eight Premier League fixtures, scoffed when the 'm' word was raised.
The players are reputedly angry that, as part of a new code of conduct, mobile phones have been banned from the training ground and fines are being imposed for poor time-keeping.
Reports of such draconian measures were "absolutely untrue", said Houllier. "You can even ask the players. I didn't mention anything, even after the (Dunne-Collins) incident. There's no ban on mobiles except in the changing room, which is normal for everyone. I only mentioned that on my first day.
"I've heard about these fines but I've never fined a player who's been late. There was one whose plane supposedly didn't take off because of snow. And some players live in London, but if they get stuck in traffic, they ring. They don't need a bing (sic) on the head.
"I hate fines. And the rulebook is laid down by the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association)."
However, the former Liverpool manager's reaction to being reminded about the Dunne-Collins incident as he prepares to return to Merseyside for Villa's match against Everton tomorrow was terse. "It has been dealt with. It's gone, it's passed, it's finished, it's over," he said, sounding like the pet-shop owner in Monty Python's 'dead parrot' sketch.
Houllier believes that Villa, far from being riven by dissent, have been buoyed by the exploits of Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Darren Bent for England. Downing was named man of the match against Ghana and Bent scored in Wales.
"We must also give special credit to Stiliyan Petrov's massive achievement in getting 100 caps for Bulgaria," said Houllier. "Richard (Dunne) won with Ireland against Macedonia, and Marc Albrighton did well for England's U-21s. When you have a run of good results and they go off with their countries, you fear might lose a bit of tempo. This time it did everybody some good, including me."
It will add to the bafflement of Villa's followers -- some of whom displayed a "Houllier Out" banner before the defeat by Wolves a fortnight ago and chanted for his dismissal afterwards -- that the international hiatus underlined the ability at his disposal, yet they are only a point above the bottom three after just six wins in his 25 league games.
Asked to explain this discrepancy, the Frenchman alluded to the Martin O'Neill's exit five days before the start of the campaign and the transitional period under Kevin MacDonald.
"I think this team had a traumatic start to season, with various managers, and we couldn't recruit until January," said Houllier. "Sometimes injuries cost us and we weren't lucky at Bolton (a 3-2 defeat last month) when Bent was clearly on-side and the referee's assistant made a mistake.
"That was a turning point. But you can't spend your time regretting and reflecting. We know we could have got better results and obviously we question ourselves, but the atmosphere is good and the quality is there. So let's stay positive and strong. All I know is we've got a 'league' of eight games which is vital for the future of the club."
Is he feeling the pressure? "Not at all. But I fully understand the crowd's frustration. The manager is responsible for results but the players are responsible for the game. When there's a gap between what we're capable of and the result, that creates anxiety and disappointment." (© Independent News Service)