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Fellow managers send get-well wishes ? and spell out the perils of pressure
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Premiership managers were quick to offer their good wishes to Gérard Houllier after the Liverpool manager underwent heart surgery last night, and to sympathise with his plight.

Premiership managers were quick to offer their good wishes to Gérard Houllier after the Liverpool manager underwent heart surgery last night, and to sympathise with his plight.

David O'Leary, the manager of Leeds United, Liverpool's opponents at Anfield yesterday, revealed a certain irony in the Frenchman falling ill during the game when he said the pair had been laughing before the match about the effects of pressure in football. He said: "Gérard had said to me that this game can damage your health when you are looking after clubs like ours. With all due respect to Bobby Robson, I won't be doing this job when I get to his age. No chance." He added: "I just wish Gérard a speedy recovery. He's a great friend of mine and I just hope he gets well soon."

Robson, who is the oldest manager in England at 68 and still has 18 months to run on his contract at Newcastle, said: "I feel sorry for Gérard and hope he will be OK. I am fine. Perhaps I must be off my rocker to carry on at my age. But I cope with the pressure through sheer enjoyment and fulfilment of my life. I understand the pressure and the tension and at 1-0 today I wanted to go home." His Newcastle side won their match away to newly-promoted Bolton Wanderers 4-0.

He added: "The intensity of the Premiership, the importance of winning and the escalation of money make it a vibrant industry, no question of that. Managers get sacked in September now. The need to be in the Premiership like here at Bolton is intense. They are desperate to get enough points to stay in the division."

Charlton Athletic's Alan Curbishley, widely regarded as one of the most promising managers in the Premiership, provided a passionate, detailed explanation of the pressure to succeed when he spoke after his side's 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough.

The pressure, he said, was there for all to see. "We have had two managerial changes in the past two weeks [Peter Taylor at Leicester and Jim Smith at Derby] and I think the pressure on everybody is enormous." he said. "Clubs have geared themselves up for Premiership football.

"The pressure for anybody who looks as though they are going to fall out of the Premiership is enormous, and I would imagine the pressure on the top four or five clubs who look like they are going to qualify for the Champions' League is even more. They are all geared up to being in the Champions' League, where there is so much money available while you are in it."

He said clubs had to invest in their stadiums as well as players and, with so much at stake, it was the managers who bore the brunt. "Three or four years ago, 52 managers got the sack in one year, which is an incredible amount," he explained. "It then calmed down because chairmen realised the change was expensive and there was a lot of upheaval so you may as well stick with what you have got. But perhaps this year it is back on again because of the pressure of the Premiership. The relegation issue for any club is so scarey because you lose about 70 per cent of your income."

That was only part of the problem, he said, as clubs had contracts with players that they could escape from when their income declined in a lower division. "You have seen Coventry sell £20m worth of players when they went down, so did Wimbledon. If you go down and can't sell then the pressure is even greater. You can only alleviate the pressure by being sensible, like we have been at Charlton. We got promoted, invested in the club, didn't overspend. We went back down, then came up and the time was right to invest in players and the ground."

Sir Alex Ferguson is due to step down at the end of this season as manager of Manchester United, where the pressure is to keep the club at the summit of the game in European. He was also quick to express his sympathy for Houllier. "I'll be in touch with him because he is a good man, I hope it's not serious," he said.

Arsène Wenger, Arsenal's French manager, said: "It shows that the job can damage your health but passion comes first. I will be in touch with Gérard and hope he comes back soon."

Indeed, the stress and strain of management has taken its toll down the years, with two other Liverpool managers falling victim. In 1992, Graeme Souness had a triple heart by-pass operation 24 hours after an FA Cup semi-final draw against Portsmouth. He had taken over from his fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish, who unexpectedly resigned in February 1991 suffering a stress-related attack of shingles before a cup tie against Liverpool's neighbours, Everton. The match ended in a 4-4 draw.

Among others to suffer heart attacks are Joe Kinnear, who eventually had to step down as manager of Wimbledon in 1999 after falling ill on the pitch before a match at Sheffield Wednesday; when Barnet manager, Barry Fry, fell ill after pushing the team bus; and Jock Stein who died during Scotland's World Cup qualifying match against Wales in September 1985.

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