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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 07:20 GMT 08:20 UK
Houllier's goodbye to 'the bunker'
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier
Gerard Houllier's reaction last week to fevered speculation that he would be sacked as Liverpool manager was typical - he took sanctuary in the club's luxurious Melwood training headquarters and plotted the future.

Houllier's focus was not to be deflected by suggestions that he would soon be part of Liverpool's past.

His reign is now over, however, and he must clear his desk at the huge complex he helped design.

It was the base Houllier jokingly called "the bunker" - and that is what it may have seemed like as he came under siege from those wanting to know whether he was in the final days at his beloved Liverpool.

Houllier's intensity and single-minded determination to prove he could bring the title back to Liverpool will not have lessened until the very moment he was told the job was no longer his.

The stamp of Houllier's personality is all over Liverpool and all over Melwood

That is the sort of bloody-minded defiance that drove him to return to Anfield after life-saving heart surgery, that brought silverware back to the club with a treble in 2001.

The stamp of Houllier's personality is all over Liverpool and all over Melwood.

The old place in the suburbs in West Derby has been transformed from what looked like an army training camp into one of the most sophisticated training grounds in world football.

Gone are the days when Liverpool used to change at Anfield then take a bus over to the training ground 10 minutes away.

No stone was left unturned in Houllier's search to develop the perfect environment for modern footballers to flourish

Graeme Souness started the changes - but Houllier took change onto a different level at a club that hardly embraces revolution.

Houllier's all-consuming desire for involvement meant he was heavily involved in specific designs, from ensuring the views out of windows were pleasing on the eye to insisting there were no pillars in dressing rooms for players to "hide" behind.

Pitches for training. Pitches for tactics. No stone was left unturned in Houllier's search to develop the perfect environment for modern footballers to flourish.

This is the complex which will be inherited by his successor - be it Alan Curbishley, Rafael Benitez, or another.

Houllier arrived at Anfield in the summer of 1998 as part of an ill-fated joint manager set-up with Roy Evans.

It was a clash of footballing cultures, albeit an amicable one, between the boy from Anfield's bootroom and the foreign football philosopher who had helped France win the World Cup.

And when Houllier eventually took sole control, the changes were sweeping.

I can't stop - I need to meet my new family
Houllier after finishing his first interview as Liverpool manager

Out went the "Spice Boys" drinking culture and in came the professionalism and minute attention to detail that Houllier insists upon in every aspect of Liverpool life.

After finishing his first interview as Liverpool manager, he told me: "I can't stop. I need to meet my new family."

And for the man who first sampled Anfield as a teacher working in Liverpool in the late 60s, this is what the club was - a family.

If players give him everything and adhere to his philosophies, he will mount any defence for them, but step away from that and it is over.

Houllier deliberately chose a home with his wife near to Liverpool city centre so he could be in among the fan base and hear what the supporters on the street were saying - good or bad.

This is why he regarded the claims from some former players that he did not understand the history and unique feel of Liverpool Football Club as a grave insult.

Houllier can be a complicated figure to some, hating defeat and ready to battle his detractors, but he is fiercely loyal to those who support him and a formidable adversary to those who choose to criticise him or take him on.

He may have many critics, but this fiercely-driven man could never be accused of lacking professionalism or a burning desire to succeed.

That will have to be applied to another job now. The Bunker belongs to someone else.

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