The seemingly endless war of words between Aston Villa and Sunderland over the transfer of Darren Bent took yet another twist last night after Gérard Houllier retaliated to condemnation from Steve Bruce by accusing English managers of ganging up on him.
Houllier had already come under criticism from Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, for his pursuit of midfielder Charlie Adam. On Thursday Bruce became the latest Premier League manager to criticise the Frenchman for his failure to contact him directly to disclose his interest in Bent, who will make his debut against Manchester City today after joining on Tuesday in a club-record deal which could eventually set Villa back £24m.
Bruce's complaints have received short shrift from Houllier, however, who has gone on the offensive by questioning whether the Sunderland board kept Bruce abreast of exactly what stage the transfer was at compared with his own chief executive at Villa Park. "Paul Faulkner kept me informed every step of the way and I would assume that [Sunderland chairman] Niall Quinn would have done the same with Steve Bruce, unless he doesn't tell the truth," said Houllier.
More significant are claims from the Aston Villa manager that he is an "easy target" for rival managers because he is foreign, echoing Wigan manager Roberto Martinez's comments in 2009 that there were a "group of loyalist managers" of British origin who alienated Rafael Benitez, the-then Liverpool manager. Houllier said: "I'm a foreign manager, I'm an easy target," and added sarcastically, "I'm French, by the way. If it had been another manager I'm sure it would have been different."
However, the former Liverpool and Lyons manager is not overly concerned by the grievances of his counterparts. "When I heard it first of all, I thought it was not gracious, and our club has been more gracious in a previous situation [with Gareth Barry and James Milner]," he added. "I thought, 'Hang on a second, why is he [Bruce] having a go at me?' Is he trying to protect himself from his fans? All he has got to do is say this is football now.
"He has made transfers before. I'm not culpable in any way. If he feels that, well, I feel sorry for that. I was kept informed, I assume he was kept informed. We did the right thing. The same with Ian Holloway. We did the right thing, we went to the club, we didn't go to the player and, funny enough, it came out from their side.
"There was nothing from Aston Villa, and he said we are insulting him and the player and God knows what. By the way, I don't care."
Today's game at Villa Park will see the two most expensive signings of the January window go head-to-head with City's Edin Dzeko, signed for £27m from Wolfsburg earlier in the month, set to be in Roberto Mancini's attack.Reuse content