Tuesday 24th February 2004 


Gerard Houllier insisted yesterday that he will still be the Liverpool manager next season and will not walk away from the struggling Anfield team.

Houllier flew home to France after the disastrous FA Cup defeat at Portsmouth on Sunday, the second time in a fortnight he has sought solitude in his homeland. The visit could easily be construed as the desire to consider the future calmly, but he was back at his desk and taking training yesterday ahead of the crucial Uefa Cup match against Levski Sofia tomorrow.

The defiant Liverpool manager said: "I will not walk away. I expect to be manager next season because we will reach our targets. I think we will achieve our objective of Champions' League football and the board know what we have turned around and that we are on the right track. These are the two reasons why I still believe I will be here next season."

The fact that Liverpool's board have already earmarked £14m for the summer transfer of Djibril Cissé - a deal which is virtually completed - is another indication that they aim to ignore the views of some Anfield fans and former players and stick with the Frenchman.

Houllier continued: "We are disappointed at what happened at Portsmouth but we are not down and weeping. We have a game coming up in the Uefa Cup and that is another competition we want to win.

"It is good to play again so quickly after a disappointment, and the competition is one that has been good to us. We remember how we won it in 2001. I will not be walking away.

"One thing has to be said though, and that is that this is not about Gérard Houllier, it is about Liverpool and we are working for the club's success. This comes above everything. I think the team will get better every year from now on. You need broad shoulders when you get this sort of criticism. I try to take it all with humour."

He added: "My big disappointment has been the injuries to important players. These are not excuses, they are facts. We lost Michael Owen and Dietmar Hamann for three months, and Jamie Carragher and Milan Baros for five months. We have not had all our weapons to use and this has hurt us."

Houllier's cause has not been helped by the fact that Liverpool have almost certainly lost Florent Sinama-Pongolle for the next three games with an ankle injury sustained in a reserve match against Blackburn.

Liverpool have some hope that the striker will be fit to fly out to Bulgaria on Monday for next week's second leg, but a decision will not be taken until the morning of departure. Emile Heskey is also doubtful for tomorrow with a back injury, while Harry Kewell may miss out with an ankle problem.

Houllier's assistant, Phil Thompson, has demanded the players "stop feeling sorry for themselves".

"We are all down and everyone is upset at going out of the Cup. The lads have had a day off and time to reflect, and now they must respond. We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and saying this always seems to happen to us."

The Arsenal manager, Arséne Wenger, has urged Liverpool to keep faith with his compatriot Houllier, a close friend. Asked for his thoughts on the matter, Wenger said: "Who would love to see their friend victimised? So of course I feel sympathy for him. I know how fragile it is."

The Independent