Every preseason he delivered a speech that lasted between an hour and 90 minutes and we were in awe, so passionate about the ending that we couldn’t wait for a season to begin. One of his first discussions involved him going in and pressing the badge on a Liverpool shirt.
“Look at him closely. Look at the badge. Think carefully about what this badge means when you wear it. Never forget what it means to the fans you play for, ”he said. I had goosebumps.
When Gary McAllister joined us in 2000, I will never forget his reaction after his first listening experience. Despite all his experience, he says he has never heard a manager communicate so well with a team.
Such meetings were not always cordial and reputation did not matter. No matter how tall the player is, he never faked a problem. If he felt someone was out of place, or had spoken out of turn during an interview, Houllier’s response was a team meeting in which he reminded that person of his responsibilities. He would demand an apology. It was a message to all of us about what was expected in representing or talking about the club.
Nothing exceeded it. He insisted on reading everything about the club, making sure he was on top of every detail. Maybe he did it too much, especially at the end when there was more criticism, but he was meticulous in receiving information.
As he recovered from his life-saving heart surgery in the hospital, he learned that I had received bat from my own fans during a performance at Anfield. He called me to support me and reassure me.
When he made a big decision, whether it was a team selection or a player transfer, he was ruthless. The exit of club captain Paul Ince is one example. Deciding on Robbie Fowler, a Liverpool legend, was no longer a guaranteed starter was another. Jamie Redknapp took over the captaincy, but when he was fit there was no room in the starting lineup if Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann were available.
As the results started to improve, our confidence in him as players exploded.