On numerous occasions we hear about the importance of passion and dedication in football. Sometimes we are frustrated at the apparent lack of it in some players, and at other times, it spills over into reckless behaviour.
Rarely, however, can you doubt those attributes of Premier League managers. The cut-throat nature of football in recent years means that their job security hangs by a thread. Every point gained is a relief, and every point dropped is a terrifying step closer to the edge of the plank. They dedicate their lives to either keeping their club afloat in England’s elite league, or pushing for a place in Europe.
It seems that one manager in particular is willing to risk his health, and what could ultimately be his life, doing the job he loves. In September 2010, Gerard Houllier bravely stepped into the role of manager of Aston Villa FC, a decision his wife Isabelle was less than impressed with. And it is easy to understand why.
Houllier has a history of heart problems which began when he was manager of Liverpool some 10 years ago. His team were trailing 1-0 to Leeds at half time when he was struck down by chest pains. He was rushed to hospital and endured 10 hours of heart surgery, which kept him out of action for five months leaving Phil Thompson holding the reins.
After departing Liverpool in 2004 he had a short stint as manager at Lyon, where he requested to be released from his contract early due to a difficult relationship with the club's chairman. He also stated that he needed a ‘rest’. Wise words from Houllier.
But sadly, his first season in charge of Aston Villa has come to an abrupt end after suffering yet another health scare. The club has given Houllier the rest of the season off to recover and they have admitted that his health problems are a serious concern to them.
It is surprising to me that the stresses and strains of modern day football management do not result in more health problems. The pressure appears never ending, with managers juggling endless battles on the pitch, with scrutiny from the media as well as family life.
During last week’s press conference at Spurs Lodge, Harry Redknapp expressed his concern for Houllier and wished him well in his recovery. He also touched upon the stress that managers, including him, were under, but remained level-headed in his view of their role and responsibilities in the grand scheme of things.
He said: "I'd like to send my best wishes to Gerard and wish him well. He’s a really good man and sorry to see he’s had a turn for the worse.
“There are a million people out there with illnesses. He has obviously had a bit of a problem with his heart.
"We all feel the stress, stress is everywhere. You’re in the public eye all the time with this job and when it's a football match and you're into it so much and you're kicking every ball.
“But there are people out there in far more stressful situations than football managers.”
A handful of other managers who suffered with heart problem over the years are Joe Kinnear, Sam Allardyce, Johan Cruyff, Stale Solbaken, and Jock Stein, who died in 1985 while leading Scotland to a crucial 1-1 draw with Wales at Cardiff’s Ninian Park.
Houllier didn't have an easy or gradual introduction to life as Aston Villa manager either. They were struggling after the sudden departure of Martin O’Neil just five days before the season kicked off and Houllier had a tough task on his hands to get back to the form that saw Villa pushing for a Champions League place the previous season. Villa’s American owner, Randy Lerner, has clearly decided they are a selling club and the pressure on Houllier to make do will be no mean feat. It is potentially his sanity rather than his heart that his wife should be more worried about.
If stress is a contributing factor to his health problems, it might have been wiser for Houllier to steer clear of the dugouts and enjoy the game from a distance. It’s great to see Houllier coming out of hospital relatively unscathed, but I wonder if we will see the Frenchman at the Villa helm next year.