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Gerard Houllier - Master Of The Cross-Border Game

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

On May 12 Gérard Houllier walked out on to the Millennium Stadium turf as a proud man. The Liverpool side he led was on the verge of playing its second final of the season (having already won the Worthington Cup), and were eagerly awaiting Alaves in the third of their finals, in the UEFA Cup, a few days later. Of the three, though, Houllier prefers the FA Cup, this competition making him very emotional indeed. He tells us why.

 

He is sitting in front of the white board he uses to describe the opposition tactics to his players. Gérard Houllier is wearing a modest and cheap tracksuit, so it seems. To be honest, it would be a very indifferent piece of clothing if it did not bear the Liverpool logo: the mythical Liver Bird. At Melwood, the Liverpool training ground, the "Boss" likes to wear casual clothes. But he is immensely proud of the club he works for. A few days before the FA Cup final against Arsenal, Houllier took the time to talk about the match, the "heavy weight fight," between the two French Masters, Houllier and Wenger, as presented by the French press.

 

"It is not a fight between Gérard Houllier and Arsène Wenger," says the Liverpool manager as an introduction. "It is a fight between two teams which are playing each other in the FA Cup final. The irony is that two French managers are meeting each other in a final. But I am not going to beat Arsène up on the bench!"

 

In Houllier's words, spontaneity and humour always mix with seriousness and professionalism. And he then pronounces the French word: "complicité" to express the relationship he enjoys with the Arsenal head-coach. "Complicity" sounds too simple of a word to indeed describe a real "closeness," or "intimacy" even. But on this friendship that is also made of competitiveness Houllier would say no more. He'd rather talk of the Cup itself, often described by his fellow countrymen as the greatest club competition in the world.

 

"Liverpool is all about winning trophies" underlines Houllier as if stating the obvious was not a bad idea in an era where qualifying for the following season's Champions' League had become more important than winning the national Cup or the domestic title...

 

How did Houllier explain the impact the FA Cup still has in France, despite all the hype of the major European cup? "The FA Cup is a competition that has been followed and covered in France for a very long time. It is broadcast all over the world but it seems there's always been a genuine interest in France." He pauses, his fingers go through the shiny material of his tracksuit, as if they were searching for the Liver Bird close to his heart:

 

"The FA Cup has such an impact in France. But the fact that Arsène and myself are facing each other this time makes it even more interesting."

 

Talking about France, does Gérard "the Gaffer" Houllier watch the French league on TV, he, who was once the "Directeur Technique National," the post Howard Wilkinson has now in England? "I watch a few games every week." Does he like what he sees in terms of technical and tactical skills? "It depends on the matches... But it is difficult when all the best footballers play abroad."

 

Houllier knows this well, he himself has pinched the likes of Djimy Traoré and Grégory Vignal, two of the greatest young French talents to come and play for Liverpool. And then his glance turns even bluer.

 

Houllier wouldn't say it but his dreams and aspirations do not lie in France anymore, but here, in this country, where he wants to make his Liverpool the great side it once was. Perhaps it all starts with victory over his old ally tuned enemy for a day...


May 2001

 

By Xavier RIVOIRE, UK Correspondent of the French sports daily "L'Equipe"
 

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