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Gerard Houllier - Ruthless?

I just can't stand hypocritical players who say they love the club and then don't do their jobs.

FRANCE has produced some great philosophers. None, though, has promoted such brutal theories as Gerard Houllier.

His philosophies are not merely debated in smoky bars amongst intellectuals and academics, they're put into chilling practice on Merseyside with Houllier overseeing their successful effect.

He's not necessarily proud of his ruthlessness but accepts it as an essential role in Liverpool's new-found dynamism and progress.

"If it's needed, I will be ruthless, you have to be," Houllier concedes with a shrug. "It's like you're on a train - if you do your job and you do it well, then we all go together in the right direction.

"If, for one reason or another, somebody misses the train or he doesn't want to do his job, then he's out.

"What surprised me when I first came here was the attitudes of one or two of the players towards their job. Earning so much money, they just wouldn't do the right things for it.

"You cannot be a hypocrite all your life. You can't say you love the fans and love the job and still not do the right things by them.

"If you know that it's going to be a tough session in training, then you can't go out or stay up till midnight the night before.

"Some of my earliest decisions were the hardest - they even went against the football man within me. But I had to get rid of some good players because if they stayed my young players wouldn't progress.

"I can point to so many still here who became different players the moment others left. You have to create the best conditions, environment and atmosphere to get the best out of your players.

"But ruthlessness doesn't always mean confrontation. Sometimes the player is simply not for us but could be right for another club.

"Apart from Steve McManaman, who decided for himself that he wanted to go, nobody who has left Liverpool is currently playing at a higher level."

There are many on Merseyside, some of whom have worn the red shirt, who insist Houllier's theories will receive their most rigourous investigation when confronted with the might of Roma over two legs of the UEFA Cup.

The Eternal City still holds a special place in Liverpool hearts. Devoted fans sold their treasured record collections just to be in Rome in 1977 to witness the first European Cup triumph.

And it was Roma who were the victims of the now-reviled Bruce Grobbelaar's knee-trembling antics seven years later when Liverpool last lifted the coveted crown.

Now Houllier's fast-emerging side face the Serie A leaders in the Olympic Stadium and then back at Anfield on an evening which is already being proclaimed 'Bob Paisley Night'. All the pomp, ceremony and spirit of those previous great European occasions will be recalled.

The manager, though, does not share the thrill. He only sees the pitfalls which await his side and candidly admits: "I would have preferred another draw.

"I would have happily taken Barcelona and enjoyed playing against them.

"But we're talking Roma here, one of the top four or five sides in Europe along with Manchester United and Real Madrid, so immediately you are worried that this is a very tough game.

"Secondly, I would rather not have the past. I have so much respect for what Liverpool sides have previously achieved but already former players are saying these games will really see how far the present side have come.

"How can you judge a young side starting to develop and blossom against Roma? If we were that good we'd be top of the league, and as far as I'm aware, we're not.

"They've got Batistuta, Aldair, Cafu and Totti, all players with vast experience, fantastic players in a great side and there is simply no comparison.

"Finally, we have those two games, plus the FA Cup, plus a league game and the Worthington Cup Final all in the space of 14 days. Five major games in 14 days? It's madness. No other country in the world would tolerate it.

"What I'm truly scared of is that these Roma games could affect the rest of the season. Either we do well and everybody gets carried away or we lose and it acts as a setback.

"I remember two years ago when we lost to Manchester United in the final few minutes of the FA Cup fourth round after leading 1-0 for most of the game. I could see how badly that hurt the team and we went down a few steps after that. I can't let that happen again."

Despite his understandable fears, Houllier still cannot escape the tingles a massive night in Anfield's cathedral can induce.

"I've felt it a few times before," he insists, "when we played Olympiakos, Crystal Palace and Arsenal on great nights of football.

"I first felt it when we played Celta Vigo with a team that was absolutely decimated by injury and suspensions. We didn't have a chance and lost 1-0, but the fans were magnificent. They backed us all the way and I thought, 'My God, we've got something special here'."

Yet with the tradition and heritage comes a burden. The legacy of Paisley, Shankly and even Kenny Dalglish's pre-Hillsborough days still loom large over any Anfield incumbent.

Houllier recognises and lives with it, although it hardly makes life less complicated. "Yes, of course there is a weight of history," he admits. "The expectations and aspirations are immense but that also helps to drive you on.

"The fans have been very patient and the board has been understanding but I think now we're beginning to sense something. I hope there is a buzz about the city because that means it's being recognised.

"I spoke to one player who is relatively new to the club and he said there was a feeling among the players that something is around the corner. That means they're talking about it in the dressing room with a real anticipation

"This year we've been clever because we're the only club in the Premiership who have bought two England internationals - Nick Barmby and Emile Heskey. Tell me the last time Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger or John Gregory did that?

"You put Steve Gerrard into that, Danny Murphy - who we've only seen 50 or 60 per cent from so far - Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen then you can see the English heart is there.

"This will appear ruthless, but if there's an English player in the side doing well and I have somebody else who can also do the job, then I will always sell the foreigner."

And we're back to that ruthless streak again.

For all his trepidation concerning the next few weeks, with Houllier constantly prepared to put his theories into practice, Liverpool's future will be well served.

Undoubtedly, the ghosts of Shankly and Paisley are satisfied and smiling.

HOU'S BEEN AXED

The players Houllier has outed from Anfield

PHIL BABB - Sporting Lisbon, FREE

DAVID THOMPSON - Coventry, pounds 3m

DOMINIC MATTEO - Leeds, pounds 4.25m

BRAD FRIEDEL - Blackburn, FREE

RIGOBERT SONG - West Ham, pounds 2.5m

STEVE STAUNTON - Aston Villa, FREE

ERIK MEIJER - SV Hamburg, FREE

DAVID JAMES - Aston Villa, pounds 1.7m

STEVE McMANAMAN - R Madrid, FREE

JEAN MICHEL-FERRI - Sochaux, pounds 1.5m

PAUL INCE - Middlesbrough, pounds 1m

SEAN DUNDEE - VFB Stuttgart, pounds 1m

OYVIND LEONHARDSEN - Spurs,pounds 3m

BJORN KVARME - St Etienne, pounds 1m

KARL-HEINZ RIEDLE - Fulham, pounds 200,000

STIG INGE BJORNEBYE - B'burn, pounds 300,000

JASON McATEER - Blackburn, pounds 4m

STEVE HARKNESS - Benfica, pounds 750,000

TITI CAMARA - West Ham, pounds 2.2m

CAPTION(S):

HOULLIER'S PHILOSOPHY: 'If there's an English player in the side doing well and I have somebody else who can also do the job, then I will always sell the foreigner'

Copyright - Paul McCarthy

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