Houllier: this war of words is our bond

FA Cup third round: Anfield's manager travels to notorious giant-slaying country ignoring the ever-louder rumours
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Those who received a little money for Christmas and were thinking of having a bit of a flutter, should not - if they listen to the horse's mouth - bother wasting any of it on Gérard Houllier being the next Premiership manager to be sacked. "You would only end up losing it," the Liverpool boss insists.

If Houllier is under pressure - and, let's face it, speculation is rife that the Frenchman is no more than a couple of bad results away from the exit door - he is not showing it. Well not any more, at any rate.

"There was a time," Houllier confesses ahead of today's all-important FA Cup third-round trip to Yeovil, "when the criticism bothered me. But now it just makes me smile. What's important at a huge club like this is the support you get from above and below. Everyone here has been superb with me, and I can tell you that there is a tremendous togetherness at Liverpool."

So what did he make of the chairman David Moores' unusual public warning about the standards expected of the club this season - that nothing less than a Champions' League place would be acceptable? "Of course the board are anxious that we do well," Houllier says, "but that does not mean I'm going anywhere. The truth is that their main concern over the past few weeks has been our well-being. All they really care about is the morale of the players and management and, thankfully, there has been absolutely no problem on that front."

Houllier admits that he has to "be strong at times", not least when the likes of Celtic's Martin O'Neill are being announced repeatedly as the next Liverpool manager, but insists that he has never considered walking away from the club he has supported since he was a student in the city in the Sixties. "One thing that has helped has been the level of support I've received from fellow managers," he says. "I think a lot of people realise that my record of having lifted six trophies in four years at the helm [Houllier actually took sole charge of club affairs in November 1998, following Roy Evans' dismissal, but considers that his tenure only truly started in the summer of 1999] is pretty good. There are other clubs who have spent just as much as us but haven't won a thing."

Despite his bravura, there can be little doubt that Houllier has been hurt by the criticism. It says much that the man who used to read all the papers every morning has cancelled his daily delivery.

"It's not that I'm particularly anxious or anything," he explains, "but rather that I feel there has been a loss of perspective. In France, we have a saying that everything which is excessive is derisory. I strongly believe in this and that is why I am totally calm."

Houllier's mood will change dramatically should Liverpool come unstuck at Yeovil this afternoon. Defeat, though, should be unthinkable, even allowing for the West Country club's penchant for upsets. "We're not taking the game lightly," Houllier says, "and we have prepared for it in exactly the same way as we would a European or championship match. We know that the TV cameras will be there because they are hoping for a big shock, but we'll be ready. We are not going to Huish Park with a skeleton squad. This is a serious match, and the attitude, commitment and focus will be complete in our game."

The Frenchman is not surprised by the publicity the tie has generated. He has heard all about that day in January 1949 when a Yeovil player called Eric Bryant scored the goal that knocked out Sunderland, then one of the best teams in the country. "That's what makes this competition get everybody so excited," he says, "and I'm pleased for Yeovil, because this was a great draw for them and they will really enjoy the day.

"That said, I must admit I'm a little disappointed with some of the mind games they've been playing. They should show us the same respect we have given them."

Houllier, who rates Liverpool's 2001 FA Cup triumph as "the best managerial moment of my career", adds: "We know Cup games tend to level teams out. We have had these sort of games before and that's why we won't treat Yeovil like a Third Division side. A good Cup run is far too important for us to be in any way casual."

Fourth place in the League remains the main objective of what has been a disappointing season, but another trip to the Millennium Stadium would provide some much-needed cheer for the Liverpool faithful. "It's true that we would have liked to be battling for the top three spots in the Premiership," Houllier says, "but luck has simply not been on our side this year when it comes to injuries. I honestly believe that, had all my strikers remained fit, we would be up there with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea."

We will soon find out whether that assertion is correct, as Michael Owen returns to the squad today. He came through training on Friday without any reaction to his recent injury problems, and will be travelling to Somerset with the rest of the players. Milan Baros, meanwhile, will be back in a couple of weeks.

"I would say Michael has a good chance of being involved at some stage in the game," Houllier says. "It's good to have him back. He's given everyone a huge lift and now, at last, our season can really start."

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