Wednesday 22 March 2017

Liverpool can rise from 'crisis', insists Villa boss

Sandy Macaskill

Gerard Houllier will return to Anfield this evening for the first time as a Premier League manager since he was dismissed by Liverpool six years ago.

The Frenchman, now in charge at Aston Villa, will walk out on to the pitch, perhaps touching the 'This is Anfield' sign on the way, and it will be, he insists, with his head held high.

Since arriving at Villa in September, the 63-year-old has had an aversion to talking about the past. The exception to the rule is Liverpool, where Houllier was manager from 1998-2004, and where despite never winning the title, he believes he achieved the three main targets of a football manager.

"I always think the mission of a manager is threefold," he said. "The first is to win a trophy and have silverware and win titles and so on -- so we did that. The second is to leave a legacy. I would just use my former chairman's words. He said: 'You put the club into the 21st century.'

"(My) legacy is also the team because the team that was left with Rafa (Benitez) won the Champions League the following year. So that means we finished in a position to play in the Champions League. We also had new facilities and maybe a new style of professionalism.

"The third mission of a manager is to make your players improve, both as players and men. We had a Ballon d'Or with Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard is a world-class international player. All the players, whether it's Danny Murphy or Emile Heskey or Stephane Henchoz or Sami Hyypia, they all became better players."

When Houllier left, he remarked that a man might leave Liverpool, but Liverpool never leaves the man. Intriguingly he now says that he could not judge whether Liverpool remain such a special club after six years under Benitez and three under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

"I can't answer that," he said. "Not because I don't want to, but because I don't have the elements of answering it. I've not been inside the club. I don't know exactly what's going on."

What is going on is that Liverpool are 10 points outside the top four and searching for identity under Roy Hodgson, a friend of Houllier's ever since they met at a French indoor tournament in the 1980s.

Houllier can appreciate the pressure, but advises patience. "Give him a bit of time, he needs to change a few things. The problem is at Liverpool, when you lose, it's a crisis."

With the relegation zone too close for comfort, you could say it is the same for Villa this evening. But Houllier says that losing to some teams is to be expected -- "you lose to Tottenham, okay" -- and he suggested that Liverpool, despite their problems, fall in the same category.

"It's Liverpool," he said. "I saw them play against West Ham . They are back. We need to give them a game."

Does he expect to win? "If you look at our away record, it will be difficult to feel that way."

One wonders what Villa supporters will make of that. Villa's hopes of rectifying that record were damaged last night after it emerged that centre-back James Collins will not be available tonight.

His absence means that the chances of Villa keeping their first clean sheet in six matches are slim. Houllier already has several injuries to contend with and could ask Ireland hopeful Ciaran Clark, a centre-back by trade but currently deployed in the midfield, to fill the breach. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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