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Teacher knows best?

By Fatman on the Lower Centenary
From Issue 57, Summer 2002

I hate being patronised. Whether it’s in work, in social situations, or by complete strangers. It just gets to me. I have been a big defender of Houllier in these pages, in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I still am a big believer that he is getting it right. However, whether it’s because of his past employment as a teacher, or the fact that he is just French, he believes that it gives him the right to patronise the fans. For me, he did it a number of times last season.

From all accounts, it appears that he was still having an influence on the team, and probably team selection, throughout the period of his recovery from illness. There are two ways we can look at this. Either he is so dedicated to the cause that he feels he has to have a hand on everything, or he doesn’t trust the judgement of his support staff. Bearing in mind his comments following his return to the club, where he openly praised the back-room staff for their efforts, the latter option doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The first scenario, however, is the more worrying.

It implies that we have a man in charge that believes that his way is the only way, and to hell with the consequences. He is a man who is driven, to such an extent that it could affect his health further in the future. A man who has ignored doctors advice, according to the press, on his recovery programme. A man who doesn’t care, or ask for other people’s opinions, maybe? Could it be this attitude that tempers Houllier’s response to criticism, particularly by the fans themselves?

I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t believe that Emile Heskey should have been dropped at some time over the period from November to January of this season. The stubborn refusal to recognise that he was struggling with his form, never mind the lack of goals, was ostrich behaviour at its best. Other people I know have blamed our system for his poor form, that just lumping the ball up to him and expecting him to chase it is a waste of time. But, how many times did we see him standing too far from his other forward? How many times did we see him ambling into the opposition half of the pitch, when Owen has chased a no-hoper into a wide position, and with no bastard to cross to? You know within ten or fifteen minutes whether Heskey is up for it. It’s when he takes a belt in the first few minutes, and then proceeds to terrorise the git who has kicked him. Likewise, the occasional knock he does get, which he looks like he could run off, is normally followed by that hangdog expression and furtive looks towards the bench.

The stubborn insistence by the management team that Vladimir Smicer has ever contributed anything to a Liverpool performance over the whole ninety minutes is annoying in the extreme. I’m sorry, but I have never seen this in all the time he has been here, and if I live to be a hundred, this man will never be a Liverpool player. For them to think that we don’t recognise this as patronising is even worse. I hate to plead with the club ( I’m a terrible little pleader) but get rid, get rid NOW!

Worse than this, though, was the reaction following the defeat by Leverkusen. Anyone who thought that Gerrard and Murphy had made a major contribution to that game must have been taking drugs. The public condemnation of Hamann by Houllier was disgraceful, and it only served to start the rumour mongers going at it again regarding a falling out between the two. There are a lot of Hamann haters who go to watch our side, but anyone who thinks we looked more solid after he went off, including our manager, were deluded. To replace him with one of the most half hearted players I have ever seen in a red shirt was disgraceful. To compound that mistake, when we had to chase the game in the last five minutes, by putting on Berger, is almost criminal!

I know what I saw that night. We saw Basturk and Ballack get forward more to the edge of our box because of this ‘tactical’ solution. This was what led to their fourth goal, because we were having to defend the edge of the penalty area. I saw a problem in our right back position, with a player who is slower than a fat bastard like me, which should have been resolved after ten minutes!

My first reaction to the defeat was a resigned acceptance that we weren’t good enough, but that we did well for our first year in the competition. But the following weeks made me feel worse. Their reasons? “We aren’t experienced in Europe”. That game was knockout. We were the best in European knockout competition in the U.E.FA cup, so to use inexperience as any type of excuse wasn’t valid. We scored twice, and should have had another three goals. And, let’s be honest here, look what we had to look forward to. To meet them, at a time when they would have been under strength, on the back of five victories against them, and with the added bonus that some of their top players had spent a week going around saying they weren’t frightened of us!

On the night I was royally pissed off at individuals, and to my shame, Michael Owen was one of those individuals who bore the brunt of my rant. But, in the cold light of time and perspective, I have no hesitation in laying the blame at the door of our manager. To go on and patronise us all the next day, and to not own up to his own mistake was a gross error in judgement and showed him up to be the school teacher that he is. I don’t, for one minute, believe that Phil Thompson would have made those same decisions if he had been out in Leverkusen on his own. I believe in my heart that we missed out on a Champions League cup final because of some awful tactical decisions, and to compound that by not coming clean with the most knowledgeable fans in the game made it even worse for me.

I once had a teacher hit me that badly with a cane that he broke my skin. My dad went to the school and soon put him right. I wish he was around today so he could have a word with Headmaster Houllier. Teacher doesn’t always knows best.

Fatman on the Lower Centenary