Houllier and the French correction

Norman Fox hears an Anglophile suggest ways to bring about a revival
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BRITISH football's miserable week in European competition came as no surprise to Gerard Houllier, the former coach of the French national side and now that country's technical director of football. But from personal experience he believes that good can come out of the crisis.

Houllier is one of the world's most respected football coaches and is among the men the Football Association has been considering approaching to be its own director of football. He spent several years on Merseyside in the late Sixties and, although a keen follower of Premiership football, he has rejected the idea of leaving France where his long-term planning, especially at youth level is coming to fruition.

Houllier said yesterday that the years of suspension from Europe imposed on English clubs had done predictable damage to their ability to adapt to the special needs of European competition. However, he says that if last week's results bring about a complete review of football from junior level up, British clubs could become dominant again "in quite a short time".

He, too, began a complete re-assessment of football in France eight years ago and now 15 of the 20 leading French managers are the product of his training programme. He said: "It's good that the FA are considering gathering all the clubs round the table. From my experience, first you have to protect your European clubs. The first thing I did was to get the league clubs' chairmen together and we decided that when a club was playing in Europe on Wednesdays they should play in no more than two other matches between the first and second legs. You need to be fresh for Europe.

"We were behind in European football tactically. I got all the coaches to travel abroad to study football everywhere. They had to spend at least a week with a foreign club. We did a lot of work with the young. All first division clubs now have to have youth training centres.

"All countries are working hard on better preparation, starting at a young age, and getting better coaches. In France we're not perfect but we caught up. But England lost so much time. You have so many qualities - it won't take many years to come back to top level. I know many English managers are much more open-minded than some were in the past. The problem may be more with the players - our players needed to be taught from a young age about technique and tactics. Having talented foreign players should help to add to their technique.

"The English have had so much success in Europe but all the other countries have worked hard to catch up. But you are a football nation and have always done it your own way. Where you have the advantage and basis on which to recover is in your football culture and history. I know a lot of people in England. They are not all orthodox in their thinking. That's why the FA are right to get them together."

Comments from some managers after their European defeats this week offered little evidence that they are remotely interested in learning anything about what goes on outside the Premiership, least of all how a Frenchman has succeeded in turning his country's football around - even one with the traces of a Liverpool accent.