Philip McNulty reflects on the career of Peter Robinson, who retires as chief executive in the summer:
PETER ROBINSON is proud of Liverpool's record of never sacking a manager in his 35 years at Anfield - and he is confident the long term future of the club is safe in Gerard Houllier's hands.
Robinson's legacy to Liverpool was the smooth signings of Bayern Munich's much-coveted defender, Markus Babbel, and the 11million pounds club record capture Emile Heskey.
Perhaps the most important prize of all was masterminding the acquisition of the brilliant Frenchman, thanks to a chance telephone call to congratulate him on a job he hadn't got.
Liverpool had won the FA Cup under Graeme Souness in 1992 and the Coca-Cola Cup with Roy Evans in 1995, but it was clear they were losing the race to glory with Manchester United, and losing it by a very comfortable margin.
Robinson admits he was "fishing" when he made that call - but ended up landing the man who has changed the course of Liverpool's fortunes.
Houllier had been offered jobs at Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday, and Robinson was probing with typical shrewdness when he spoke to the friend he had known for more than 20 years.
"The board and Roy Evans agreed we needed to strengthen the management and coaching staff. We discussed names that might have been suitable, when I noticed in the papers that Gerard was considering offers from a couple of British clubs.
"He had figured in our discussions because Roy was always very impressed with him, but we didn't think he would leave France so, when I read that, I thought this is certainly the man for us.
"I picked up the phone and said 'I'm just ringing to congratulate you on wherever you go.' I was fishing, of course, and then told Gerard that whatever club he was going to, it was the wrong one. I told him he should be coming to Liverpool.
"He then told me he was not committed and would we be interested? I said we would, and I was on a plane to Paris the following morning. We had several hours together discussing possibilities.
"I had known Gerard for many years and we had kept in contact over a regular period. I had always regarded him highly and had recommended him to Spurs in the Eighties, but my great friend at Spurs, Irving Scholar, felt it wasn't right to bring in a foreign manager at that time.
"Back at Liverpool, we all had a meeting and decided Gerard was the right man. The chairman, Roy, Rick Parry and myself went twice to see him, and the result was we came up with a joint managership idea.
"I must say that wasn't my idea and I did have reservations, but everyone wanted it to work and the two participants were very enthusiastic. They felt it could work, but I could see as we went along there were difficulties."
ROBINSON added: "What amazes me is Gerard's knowledge of the club. He is a serious student of Liverpool Football Club. He was also very insistent on living and socialising in the city, where he felt he could mix with people and, of course, hear what fans thought and were saying.
"Sometimes I will ask him how he knows certain things, and he will tell me he has read about them. I suspect he has read every book ever written about Liverpool.
"He has a vast knowledge of the coaching side of the game, and great experience of club and national management. He gave up one heck of a job to come to Liverpool, but he had a great affinity with the club, and saw the success his great friend Arsene Wenger had enjoyed in the Premiership at Arsenal and was excited by it.
"Gerard's reputation certainly goes before him. I'm finding that any foreign player that we talk to now is very impressed by Gerard. They know of him and they know of his ways. I don't think there is a foreign player who would not come here to play for Gerard, all other things being equal."
And, as Robinson prepares to leave Liverpool behind, he is confident the future is secure under his astute stewardship.
He revealed at the turn of the year that Houllier is not only secure until the end of his contract in 2003, he fully expects him to earn another one.
Robinson said: "We are totally confident he is the man for Liverpool Football Club. That is why he will have time to do the job, although it is not easy in modern football with all the competition. People have to be patient - but there is great confidence in Gerard here."
And he added: "I am proud that we have never sacked a manager in all my time here. They have all either retired or left of their own accord.
"We firmly believe in the concept of shared responsibility, and it is something that has served us well."
© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo