Houllier's Bouillabaisse not to taste

Posted by Rushian on March 27, 2004, 04:29:21 PM

If you spend more than a few hours in the bustling city of  Marseille you'll inevitably end up down at the picturesque Vieux Port. The moored yachts dominate the scene, gently rocked by the Mistral sweeping off the Mediterranean. Arrive before the sun reaches its peak and you'll find fishermen selling the catch of the day, fresh off their boats, as their forebears have done for the last two millennia.

A stroll down the northern arm of the old port towards Fort St. Jean takes you past the many seafood restaurants selling the Marseillais speciality Bouillabaisse. It's a wonderful dish, a fish stew comprising the very best seafood from the region, an infusion of nautical flavours. The further you walk the lower the price of this dish becomes. Cheaper ingredients and less gastronomique flair lead to a cruder version.

Replace the Quai du Port with Walton Breck Road and supporting Liverpool recently has felt like that walk. Our football has deteriorated into a cheaper and cruder version of that we once watched. Before Thursday's game the fans in the Virage Sud had attached a banner to the back of their stand pleading for their team to provide "Une touche de couleur dans une saison trop terne" - a touch of colour in a very dull season. How appropriate and applicable that seemed to those of us standing on the visitors section of the Tribune Ganay.

You'll have all read the match reports or watched the game so there's no need to cover the details but certain aspects stand out as symptomatic of our current plight.

The heart of the team is too slow - the triumvirate of Hyypia, Henchoz and Hamann are too often exposed for pace. This has led to GH playing Biscan in defence to rectify the situation, and as gamely as he's tried he's just not a natural defender as the sending off showed. Igor's been lucky in previous games and it was une grande erreur waiting to happen. It's a situation which should have been addressed last summer.

After the equaliser Steven Gerrard was forced to right fullback which as a temporary measure was sensible, but surely it would have been wise to bring on a defender at halftime and allow the one player who has carried us for months to carry the attack to Marseille? The fact that we have four fullbacks out on loan wasn't lost on many Reds in the Stade Vélodrome. Tactical nous and sensible planning have become rare bedfellows.

Our overall play was once again stilted. Too many players stand and watch rather than pass and move. Team spirit, the instillation of which was once Houllier's main strength, now too easily evaporates. The conveyor belt from the Academy appears to have dried up with the distrust between Heighway and Houllier widely spoken about at the club. It's a sad indictment that a young player of the quality of John Welsh has seen only 17 minutes of first team action past his 20th birthday.

The excuses at the end of the game, the complaints about the referee, were expected. We get the same every game now. Any sense of grace GH once had has seemingly disappeared. The decisions have been made and complaining about them and bringing them up constantly is not going to change anything. Neither is going to watch a Channel 5 replay of the penalty decision at half time when reorganisation and motivation should have been the priority. And as for Phil Thomson at the end of the match, rubbing his fingers together to the Marseille fans suggesting bribery? A boorish gesture and completely unworthy of this great club.

Sitting down at the old port the lunchtime after the game, easing the hangover with a large cafe au lait, all sense of disappointment had already ebbed away. I'd accepted the defeat. We deserved to lose over 180 minutes to what even the local fans would admit was a poor Marseille side.

They deserved to go through for the performance of their fans alone who gave incredible support - the kind of support no longer seen at Anfield or welcomed by the club. It was all sadly predictable. On reflection now it hurts to realise that the fact we lost doesn't hurt anymore - all enthusiasm and expectation has been drained.

18 months down the line and Houllier's team now resembles a cheap fish soup rather than the sumptuous Bouillabaisse feast we've been served at Anfield down the years. It's the sort of banal soup regularly served up in restaurants in Aston, Middlesbrough, and Fulham. It's surely time we appointed a new head chef.

© Rushian 2004

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