Saturday 24 March 2018

Houllier knew the score and you can't wave that away

It's been an eventful few days for Gerard Houllier. It began as he recalled fond memories of the night he steered Liverpool to Champions League glory -- no, shit, sorry, I mean when Rafa Benitez did -- in Istanbul in 2005.

It moved then to applauding the wrong set of fans, publicly expressing his fondness for the wrong club and touching the wrong sign. A 3-0 defeat was in there somewhere, and it ended with an apology of sorts to fans of Aston Villa, seemingly offended by his every move lately. They have also been demanding he be sacked.

A manager of mine was sacked following a run of poor results. The following game, our coach Ray Harford took temporary charge and we won 5-0. I met the ex-manager the following week and he laughed awkwardly at how he was clearly missed and his dismissal must have been ill-judged. There wasn't really much I could say to be honest.

When Mick McCarthy said his goodbyes to the players following his sacking at Sunderland, he joked that they were not to go and win five games in a row. You see, if a team improves following your departure as manager, it is deemed by some in football to be a vindication of the decision to get rid of you.

Not by everyone though.

Houllier, like many of us, remembers exactly where he was the night of Liverpool's astonishing triumph, beating AC Milan on penalties after drawing 3-3. He recalls being in the dressing room receiving the congratulations and thanks from the delighted players.

It was pointed out to him that 12 of the 14 players had come through under him. (This needed to be pointed out to him. He had moved on.) He told them of their press duties and didn't want to interrupt their celebrations, but they insisted he sit down and discuss how his wife was. You would almost get the impression he was uncomfortable being there. That he maybe felt out of place. But he stayed, and in doing so, created what he describes as one of his ten most memorable nights in football.

He is less clear on where he was at half-time when Liverpool trailed 3-0, and he never claims the side that finished fifth that season was his. His wrongdoings last week included touching the This Is Anfield sign in the Liverpool tunnel, waving to the Liverpool fans while failing to acknowledge the travelling Villa ones, and capping off a 3-0 defeat by saying, "If I have to lose 3-0 then I would prefer it to be to them as I like Liverpool."

Just to re-cap, he manages Aston Villa. Not the exact words you expect to hear from the boss following a fourth defeat in succession.

Certainly matters weren't helped for him when General Charles C Krulak, a non-executive director at the club, posted on a website that fans had a right to feel Houllier should be sacked for what he had done.

In response to all this, he gave a less than heartfelt apology on Friday to those he may have offended -- "if you want me to apologise, I apologise" -- though seemed bemused as to why it was even necessary.

Apparently the comment about Liverpool was an attempt at humour. It worked on one level for sure, as he had me laughing. Unfortunately for Houllier, his target audience of Villa fans were not in a similar mood less than a week after losing in the Carling Cup to neighbours Birmingham City.

It was certainly a misjudgement on his part, but little more than that. It's far from the sackable offence some Villa fans feel it has become, and their reaction is surely more down to the form the team is currently showing than any disgust they feel at not being waved at. Houllier acknowledged this on Friday when he began to make sense of it all for the first time, saying that none of this would have mattered had they not lost 3-0.

However, he knew the score when he waved to the Kop, blanked the Villa fans and made his 'humourous' comment about liking Liverpool. Not sure how that line of defence improves things for him at all.

Sunday Independent

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