656: PREMIERSHIP: Gerard Houllier’s
by : Antony Melvin
5) The Main Man: Take a bow, Jeff Stelling. This one man holds the front of the show together with expert ease. As the goals, bookings, sending-offs and incidents fly in, Stelling keeps his cool and relates the events to the viewer with the help of the onscreen vidi-printer. His ability to jump back and forth between matches is crucial to the flow of the show. His knowledge of football in general is second to none and his never-ending research in days prior to matchdays clearly shines through. Message to Sky Sports Executives: Jeff Stelling is vital to your continued success.
6) Behind the scenes: The amount of production that must go into the making of Soccer Saturday is enormous. It’s not just what’s happening on our screens, but what’s happening off it that makes the show run so smoothly. Sky Sports have a reporter sat in every ground at every game around the country keeping tabs on the score and scorers, ready to call home with an update in a flash.
7) Online service: And it just gets better as this season Sky Sports have expanded their Gillette Soccer Saturday service by making it available online at www.skysports.com. The ‘Score Centre’ launches and up pops every goal from every game, both on a Saturday and when there are enough midweek games to warrant the service (likewise with the TV service). Talk about being ‘interactive’, as you can simply click on any team and up pops their starting line-up, subs, bookings, and goal information. All the information you could want at the squeak of a mouse.
So there we have it. Gillette Soccer Saturday is good. It’s very good. It could even be better than sex. At least in this case there’s a guaranteed orgasm or two.
28/02/2004As the football world reels from a detailed death threat sent to the Liverpool boss, Shankly’s famous old quote has rarely rung so hollow. That the Liverpool support will now rally behind the manager is expected and predictable. A by-product of such a threat is that the Liverpool manager is now likely to be retained for at least another year and the idiotic actions of this person will have exactly the opposite effect as that intended.
So the prospect that Gerard Houllier will be taking Liverpool into 2005 is now very real. But all sentiment aside, is Houllier the man to return the true glory days to Anfield, rather than consistent league finishes and a good cup run?
One of the character traits of great managers for decades has been to show little sentimentality with regards to transfers, to take risks and not listen to what the fans are clamouring for. And this is Houllier’s basic weakness, he listens to the fans on the talk shows, he reads the papers, he wants to be loved. But is that a desirable trait in a manager?
In the summer Alex Ferguson sold David Beckham to Real Madrid, Bobby Robson attempted to sell the talismanic Alan Shearer to Liverpool and Arsene Wenger more-or-less retired David Seaman. All ruthless acts from experienced and better managers.
And Wenger and Ferguson have a history of shaking up the team with unpopular and sudden sales. At Arsenal Merson, Overmars, Petit and Anelka were all moved on. And Ferguson’s list is necessarily longer; Whiteside, McGrath, Ince, Stam, Kanchelskis and Beckham. These weren’t players in their dotage, all of them were in their prime and established internationals.
How did Houllier attempt to shake up his squad after a disappointing fifth place finish? He released Patrick Berger and in a bid to appease the fans and the press he bought the winger they were clamouring for. Whether he knew what to do with him is a moot point.
Management (as opposed to coaching) is as much about selling as buying. Manchester United may not win the league because Arsenal have been exceptional. But their sale of Beckham would never have happened at Anfield because it was a bold decision. Houllier would have rather let his midfield get too old than let a world class player go – but that is the easy way. And increasingly Houllier has taken the easier way. Afraid of the fans reaction, he has pandered to their demands and now has a team that is falling back into a regular top-six side – with all the relative mediocrity that this implies.
Advocating that Liverpool sell Owen or Gerrard this season may well be counter-productive. But great Liverpool managers have sold their best players and improved the team as a result. Bob Paisley broke up the Toshack/Keegan partnership by selling the England man after winning the European Cup when he was 26. At Hamburg he was promptly crowned European Footballer of the Year, twice. Liverpool improved because they bought Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen (Hansen a few weeks before Keegan left).
Joe Fagan sold Graeme Souness to Sampdoria at the height of his brilliance after Liverpool won a treble of European Cup, league and league cup. Liverpool continued to win title after title. Goal machines Ian Rush and his replacement John Aldridge were also sold off in their prime as successive managers put the club first, the player second and sentiment a distant third.
Houllier doesn’t have the instincts to make bold and unpopular transfer decisions. He is a good coach but not a great manager, and given the resources at his disposal it is possible that he can still lead Liverpool to the title – but there are a dozen managers in Europe who are more likely to do so.
Most Liverpool fans have already decided that Houllier is not the man to take them back to the top but after a death threat all this will be forgotten. Expect Liverpool fans to give Houllier their full backing, but the same old doubts will again be voiced after a respectful gap.