x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Houllier will never walk alone

The former Liverpool coach can expect a warmer welcome at Anfield than Roy Hodgson, the current manager.

Do you have a prediction for tonight's English Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa?

David Cameron, the Aston Villa-supporting British Prime Minister, made the bold assertion last week that his team would triumph by six goals to nil.

Then again, he also made the bold assertion last week that England stood a great chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup, so let's not place too much faith in his judgement. (If Russia's Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, starts making predictions, it will be time to sit up and take note. Now there is a world leader who can foretell the future.)

Personally, however, I would advise anyone against making predictions in public, as they can easily backfire.

Like the columnist who, in this very newspaper, predicted that last Monday's El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid would finish goalless, when in fact the score was 5-0.

What an idiot, eh? Not so much a case of egg on my - sorry, I mean "his" - face, but an entire Spanish omelette.

So, if we are going to make any predictions, let's stick to safer ground.

Like the predictably "unique" behaviour of Liverpool fans, for example. Always a banker that one. Tonight we can expect the unusual spectacle of a home crowd giving a warmer welcome to their opposition's manager than to their own.

Liverpool fans, you see, are very picky about whose name they will sing.

It is an honour they do not bestow lightly. That is why Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager since July, has yet to hear his name bellowed by the Kop. And, given the club's league standing, it may be some time yet.

Gerard Houllier, however, who returns to the club he once managed as Villa boss, will almost certainly hear his name sang to the rafters, at least before kick-off.

The ever-nostalgic Anfield faithful will probably resurrect their old anthem of "Gerard, Gerard Houllier", sang to the tune of Go West, by Village People. (And, in a way, he did go west. Aston Villa is in the West Midlands of England, although I doubt that Birmingham was the peaceful, blue-skied utopia Village People had in mind.)

The slightly perverse nature of this situation will no doubt appeal to many Liverpool fans, who consider themselves a cut above the average supporter.

They will enjoy a rosy, self-satisfied glow at the idea that their affection may not be easily acquired, but nor is it transient.

It will also appeal to Houllier himself, who always appeared to crave the love of fans in a way that, say, Sir Alex Ferguson, does not.

Naturally, it will suit both parties to conveniently forget that Houllier's latter years at the club were marked by growing carping among those same loyal fans, who were furious at Houllier's "under-achievement" and allegedly poor buys in the transfer market.

What would they give now, one wonders, for a manager who delivered four top-four finishes out of six seasons, a bulging trophy cabinet, and a squad of "rubbish" players who went on to win the Champions League just one year after Houllier was finally driven out?

Probably best not to dwell on that for too long, chaps.

Just keep singing Village People songs until the bad thoughts go away.


England’s response to not getting World Cup is petty and pathetic

England is the “Motherland of Football”, according to Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president.

Well, maybe so, but the reaction to missing out on the 2018 World Cup has been anything but maternal. It has been more like witnessing a moody teenager.

First we had the sarcasm. Andy Anson, the England bid chief executive, suggested bitterly that the 2026 tournament will be held “in Antarctica with heated stadiums, fan-free”. Oooooooh, bitchy!

Then we had the ritualised breaking of friendships.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement was made, the English Football Association cancelled a planned match against Thailand in Bangkok next June.

This was retribution against Worawi Makudi, the Thai member of the Fifa executive committee, for his lack of support.

Presumably we have also cut his head out of any group photographs and deleted him from our list of Facebook friends.

Next came the playground insults.

Under the headline “BID FAT LIARS!”, the country’s most popular daily newspaper published photographs of the seven Fifa suits who allegedly reneged on promises to support the Motherland’s bid.

Finally, there was the lip-trembling stomping-off-to-the-bedroom moment.

Roger Burden, the acting chairman of the English FA, resigned his position because “I am not prepared to deal with people whom I cannot trust”.

Sadly he did not add the traditional teenager’s sign-off: “This is so unfair, I hate you all!”

Inevitably, there is now talk of England withdrawing from Fifa, along with other “wronged” nations like Spain, to form our own gang.

You may recall this from your own childhood as the “It’s MY ball and I’m taking it home!” moment.

My advice? Just ignore us. We’ll have calmed down by teatime.