Arsene Wenger has known Gérard Houllier since both men started their careers in the French championship 28 years ago, but the Arsenal manager confessed this week to being surprised that today he will once again sit in the opposite dugout to his old friend.
Wenger said that he believed Houllier had decided once and for all to take life easy with his job as the technical director of the French football federation and had given up on the career of a club manager for ever. Wenger has not forgotten that had Houllier suffered his aortic dissection in 2001 one day on, he would have been on a plane to Ukraine for a Champions League game and out of reach of expert medical help.
"If that happens one day later then he is a dead man," Wenger said bluntly this week when asked to assess the effect of Houllier's heart condition on his career. "Who knows [what would have happened if Houllier had not collapsed]? It was a shame he got that. The big luck was it happened one day before and he recovered well. But for a while you are not the same person.
"That damaged certainly his potential to finish the job he had started so well at Liverpool. He started at the same time as me. He is two years older and he started at Lens at the same time I started at Nancy [actually Houllier started at Lens in 1982; Wenger at Nancy two years later]. He took a few years off [from management]. I have never taken one year off. Never. But he always stayed in touch with the job.
"After Liverpool, he went to Lyons and did well. After Lyons he moved out and into the [FFF] job. I thought it is because he did not want this kind of pressure that he went into this kind of job. Compare who does that in England. Trevor Brooking. It was not the prestige [of the FFF job] it was the fact he did not want to do this kind of [club] job any more.
"I take it [the pressure of managing] on board. I am ready to give everything to be successful in football. It means a massive amount to me and I am the kind of person who cannot work otherwise. I am not the kind of person who can be half-in and half-out. I am unhappy. I am only happy if I am completely [immersed] in what I do. I know it does not help health-wise but I have no other way to do it."
Wenger said that he had been asked by Houllier for his opinion on Robert Pires, who trained with Arsenal this season before he signed for Villa. The 37-year-old is expected to be in the squad for the game today. "I had him [Houllier] on the phone to see how he [Pires] was physically. He asked me how he was and I told him only good [positive] information. I am happy to help Robert as he practised for two to three months and I am happy that he has found a club."Reuse content