The final Gerard Houllier interview

-- The final Gerard Houllier interview by Paul Rogers for -- 

Is this your saddest day in football?

"Yes, probably. This club means a lot to me. The first thing I would like to make clear to the supporters is just how much this football club means to me. I would have been happy to carry on, I intended to, but I understand that the excessive pressure that would have been on me and the board would have made next season extremely difficult and probably could have jeopardised the performance of the team on the pitch. I always said the club comes first. I'm not here for myself, I'm just here for the club. This is the reason why I'm sitting here alongside Rick. We've agreed to part company the amicable way. There's no war, there's no insults, there's no bitterness and no ill feeling.

"Six years here for me have been six years of trying my hardest for Liverpool Football Club. Six years of happiness. I would like to thank the players and the fans first for their support. I think the players should be proud of what they've achieved and for the trophies they have won. In the last four years, they have managed to qualify for the UEFA Cup once and for the Champions League three times. They also managed to pick up six pieces of silverware and two of them were the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup. So, I'd like to thank the players for that.

"I'd also like to thank the Chairman David, Rick, the board of directors and my assistant manager Phil Thompson who has been incredibly loyal and extremely hard-working. I'd also like to thank the technical team and the medical staff. In fact, I have to thank everybody who works at the club - from the website to the catering staff - because I've had a good relationship with everyone. I had a great relationship with the team despite some of the mischief put out recently by certain newspapers.

"Now my wishes and good luck goes to the club for next season's campaign. I think the club has improved a lot, both on the field and off the field. I mean, there was no Liverpool website six years ago! I think the facilities at the club and at Melwood, the lifestyle of the players off the pitch and many things at the club have improved while I've been here. I think now the club has to keep developing and progressing. The club will always be in my heart. It's the most fantastic club in the world. It's now important the club manages to keep a balance between the economic and political needs and I think they've done well on that front. The club also needs to remember its roots and also to understand that you cannot always have a quick fix.

"So my best wishes and good luck go to the club in the coming years, both in the Premiership and also the Champions League, where it belongs. I want to stress that the club is in good health, so there are no problems. The club is in good hands.

"Me personally, I'm in good shape. I'm going to take some holiday but I'm healthy, as you'll probably know if you've seen the pictures of me jogging in Sefton Park. I can tell you that the paparazzi will have had to got up extremely early that morning to take that picture but I was up early!

"I still love my football. I'll be going to Euro 2004. I've not retired from football. I'm not leaving because of my health.

"There are four strong pictures that I will take away from Anfield with me although I have so many great moments to remember from my time here. Many of my memories here are very emotional to me. Firstly, I will never forget Michael Owen scoring the winner against Arsenal in the FA Cup final with his left peg! We used to tease Michael that his left foot wasn't very good but that goal not only meant we'd won a trophy but it also proved just how much he'd improved himself as a player.

"The second memory is of watching the Kop display the GH mosaic on television at home before the game against Manchester United whilst I was recovering from my illness.

"That was probably as emotional for me as the reception I got from the fans and Fabio Capello during my comeback against Roma in the Champions League. Remember we had to win that match to qualify for the next round and we did it!

"Finally, I have great memories of Gary McAllister receiving the Man of the Match award from Johan Cruyff at the end of the UEFA Cup final against Alaves in Dortmund. The reaction of the fans that night in Germany is something I'll never forget. We were together with the fans that night all singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

"I'd like to stress that nobody can ever take away from me those memories. The fantastic times I've had with the fans, the players and the staff will always be with me and my leaving the club does not mean I'm leaving behind those memories - I'm taking them with me!

"One moment that for me epitomises my time here is when Steven Gerrard, my new captain at the time, scored against Sofia and ran over to the touchline to celebrate the goal with me and the staff. I want to stress again that there is no bitterness; there is no ill feeling just a huge sadness at the moment.

"I will always remain a fan of Liverpool Football Club. I'll come here again as a friend and a fan and I will cheer the boys on.

You are leaving Liverpool but I guess, Liverpool will never leave you.

(Close to tears) "That is exactly right."

The club you leave today is a very different club to the one you joined in 1998.

"I think the function of a manger is three-fold. You have to get results and we probably got too many good results early on. It raised expectations too early. Due to our success in 2001, when we finished 2nd in 2002, everyone automatically assumed we'd simply win the title in 2003. The first role of the manager is to get results and here, it is to win trophies. Once you have a vision, you work towards that.

"The second 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.

"The manager must plan for the future and I think we've made some signings that will serve Liverpool well for years to come. I think any manager must leave a legacy for the future and I think I've done that. Milan Baros is young, John Arne Riise is still young, Le Tallec and Pongolle are both young and Chris Kirkland too.

"The third part of a manager's role is to make the players improve. Michael Owen has certainly improved otherwise he wouldn't have been named European Player of the Year. I think Steven Gerrard has improved too. 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."

You never seemed to go for the quick fix as manager of Liverpool. You always had one eye on the future when you bought players and now it seems someone else will reap the benefits of your approach.

"Well, I think Liverpool have signed a great player in Djibril Cisse. He's a fantastic striker and he's signed for five years so there is plenty of time to for someone to work with him. He's been the best striker in France for the past three seasons and Rick and myself have spent a number of years making sure that this transfer happened. He's very, very quick, got a great shot and is a proven goalscorer. It's funny but maybe the best of this Liverpool team will come next season or the season afterwards.

"I really have no ill feelings about that. I really, really wish Liverpool win the title next season. Some new players may come in and some players may leave but you can't change the whole team in one season and that will mean I've played my part in the success."

Will you take a lot of pride if Liverpool are successful in the next couple of years?

"Of course."

There is usually a lot of animosity when a manager is told his services are no longer required...

(Clearly moved) "First of all, that is not the culture of this club. Myself and Rick both want the best for the club and if this is the best, then I can accept that. If I didn't want the best for the club then it would mean that I was just working for me and that is not how I am."

Rick Parry: "I can remember the day we started working together four years ago and we both said, the nature of this is that one day the job will come to an end but that doesn't mean the friendship has to come to an end. Words are cheap and sometimes it's easy to say that but we're sitting here together now. It's the nature of this business that every manager must end his reign at some point."

We've talked of the high points of your time but there have also been some low moments. Do you harbour any regrets?

"You can have regrets but what do they achieve? Sometimes you think that some of your signings didn't work out or they didn't reach the level that was expected of them or the level that they were capable of achieving but I leave here with far more positive pictures than regrets. I have no remorse. I regret that sometimes we were a little unfortunate at times but that happens. I know I can look myself in the mirror and honestly say that I tried my best at all times for the good of Liverpool Football Club. It's been a difficult year and sometimes I think people don't understand what I mean by that. Finishing fourth this season behind the top three was a good achievement taking into account the number of serious injuries we suffered. The gap between Arsenal and ourselves I am not happy about but there is nothing I can do about that now.

"If you know what I'm thinking right now, it's that I'm so proud of Jamie Carragher being away with the England squad right now. Jamie broke his leg in early September and he came back and played well and he earned his place in the England squad. To come back from a broken leg and make it into the 23 most important footballers in England is really something. It shows the character of the player and also the environment he was working in. When he was out with a broken leg, we offered him a new contract. His leg was in a cast but Rick rewarded him with a new contract. That is what this club is all about."

I'm not going to ask you to single out individuals but is Jamie Carragher one of your players who you feel most proud of?

"Yes. Some players can go either way and Jamie chose to go the right way. If I had 1% influence on his decision to take the right path then I'm proud that he's developed that way. Jamie is not the only one though. From a technical point of view, the progress of Michael really makes me proud. Steven Gerrard has turned out to be some captain too. What a player to take on that responsibility and thrive off it. Sometimes the captaincy can be a heavy weight on your shoulders but not for that boy."

It must say something about the respect the players had for you that even at our lowest points this season, we weren't picking up newspapers to hear the players moaning or sniping at you.

"You are right, it did not happen. In fact, a lot of the players spoke out publicly to support me and put the record straight in the press. They didn't moan to the press out of respect for what we were all aiming to achieve. This is why I was so proud of our results towards the end of the season. We were in the final push to get to the Champions League and we needed to win practically every game if we were to finish fourth. We did that - we won three games and then drew against Newcastle."

One thing you very rarely did while you were manager at Liverpool was to criticise your players in public. Sometimes when the players really let you down, fans were practically urging you to come down hard on them but it's not in your nature, is it?

"Every manager has their own philosophy and mine is that you win together and you lose together. My philosophy is about loyalty to my players and they know that. I never turned on my players. That doesn't mean that we didn't share a few heated home truths from time to time but that is behind closed doors not in the press. The players appreciated my loyalty to them. I put the pressure on myself because I wanted to act as a shield for them from all the criticism."

Do you have a final message for the fans whose pride you restored in 2001?

"Keep the faith. Keep supporting the team and the club. That's all I want to say. This is a fantastic club that you support."

You arrived a Liverpool fan. Do you leave a Liverpool fan?

"Even more so. I'm a bigger fan that I was when I first joined Liverpool if that's possible."

You've said in the past that if someone took football away from you, they may as well stop you breathing. Can we expect to see Gerard Houllier in another team's dugout soon?

"I will stay in football. Whether it's in management or in some other capacity, I'm not leaving football. I simply can't see myself not being involved in football. It's a scary thought to me!"

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