Houllier puts the case for self-defence

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The Independent Football

Gerard Houllier was still cursing Liverpool's luck yesterday after their Uefa Cup demise, but he delivered a defiant riposte to the headlines which have again predicted that he is on borrowed time at Anfield.

Gerard Houllier was still cursing Liverpool's luck yesterday after their Uefa Cup demise, but he delivered a defiant riposte to the headlines which have again predicted that he is on borrowed time at Anfield.

He described Marseille's 2-1 victory, which saw them win 3-2 on aggregate, as the "lowest point" of Liverpool's season. Yet when asked whether he would still be in charge when 2004-05 kicks off, he replied: "That's not my decision. But yes, I believe I will be."

There was "no chance" of his retiring, a relaxed-looking Houllier said. And if he did become the first Liverpool manager to be sacked in nearly 50 years, he would seek another position in football. "In an ideal world, this will be my last job. My health will decide it, and that's fine."

Houllier believes he retains the confidence of the Anfield board. It remains to be seen whether that would be the case if Liverpool failed to finish in the fourth place they hold in the Premiership, which ensures participation in the qualifying stages of the Champions' League.

He felt reassured by the directors' response to the circumstances of Thursday's setback. "They really felt sorry for me and the players," he said, still bemoaning, in the face of the evidence, the referee's decision to award Marseille a penalty and dismiss Igor Biscan when Liverpool led 1-0. "Not only the chairman [David Moores] and chief executive [Rick Parry], who are close to the team, but the other members too."

Houllier maintained that he actually relished adversity, arguing that it sharpens a team's "mental strength". Given that he characterised the entire season as "a story of decisions against us", Liverpool should be amply equipped for the Premiership run-in.

"There are 27 points to play for so there's no point in moaning or feeling sorry for ourselves," he said. Might the fact that they are now free to focus on fourth place prove advantageous? "Of course. But everyone knows the importance I attach to records and silverware."

Liverpool now face "nine cup finals" according to the Frenchman. For the first of these, against Leicester tomorrow, they may be without Michael Owen. He was substituted in the Stade Vélodrome after feeling a hamstring tighten. If he sits out the game at the Walkers Stadium, he will probably miss England's friendly in Sweden next week.

Leicester, by garnering four points from two matches since their problems in La Manga, have lent substance to Houllier's theory that misfortune breeds resilience. "When a team goes through off-field difficulties, it can divide or unite. I'm pleased for them they have coped well, because some publicity was over the top."

The Liverpool crisis, whether real or imaginary, has not dampened Houllier's sense of humour. On leaving yesterday's press briefing by the Bay of Marseilles, he was joined in the hotel lift by his inquisitors. "With my luck," he joked, "it may be a bad idea to get in with me."

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