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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, May 24, 2004
    Farewell the teacher
    So he's gone then, the teacher. Houllier delivered only limited success to his club and that wasn't enough for them in the arena of glittering prizes which is top-level Euro football.

    I think I owe him some sort of tribute having only previously mentioned him on this site whilst sniggering at his team's occasional misfortunes. He may have been manager of our local rivals but some folks get under your skin, and it feels like he did. Because he injected some ethics into the big-money game which stood way above the bottom-line. His leaving today was parcelled into the process of club execs negotiating their immediate future with billionaire speculators, and as he went he expressed wider concerns in saying, "It is important for the club to find a balance in a world driven by economic and financial needs. It needs to consider its roots - it cannot always have a quick fix."

    For me what emerged today was the impression that at heart perhaps Houllier's greatest strength was as a teacher. Teaching was how he began in life, what brought him to the city of Liverpool in the sixties and began his love affair with the place which continues despite today's events. Note how he defined his greatest successes in his final interview. He expressed them in terms of the personal development of his players:

    "The ... job of a manager is to influence the life of the club through your style, management and personality. I think we have improved training habits in terms of diet, looking after our bodies and the way we behave. We can travel anywhere in the world and I can be safe in the knowledge that there won't be any problems with my players in terms of partying and boozing. That side of football has been eradicated during my time here. I think the good attitude of the players is directly influenced by the behaviour of the manager and his staff."

    And specifically, with discernable pride, about the personal development of the club's current captain and exemplar:

    "...Part of a manager's role is to make the players improve. ... I think Steven Gerrard has improved ... They not only have to improve on the field but also off the pitch too. That picture of Steven walking around the pitch after the Newcastle match with his daughter was a great, great image for me. The player who had come from the Academy had grown up to be a man and not only a man but also a father and that makes me proud. I think I've had some influence on the players on the human side. They may have superstar status but they have remained polite, accessible and humble."

    I know I mocked him over his repeated philosophising over various team defeats last season ("It could be a blessing in disguise") but you would be philosophical, wouldn't you, after major heart surgery, you would perhaps put the welfare of your charges above the shrill demands of shareholders. You would, as a teacher, want to respond to defeat by drawing out lessons for the future. It's a tribute to his character that on Merseyside tonight there seems to be a quiet, respectful mood about his dismissal.

    We blues enjoyed calling him Monsieur Tolouse LePlot; I think on reflection he had his eyes on a far bigger picture than our pettiness could frame.