Houllier calm amid the storm

Gerard Houllier has laughed off claims that his job could be on the line if Liverpool do not return to Europe’s elite by insisting he has a squad good enough to get the club back into the Champions League.

Gerard Houllier has laughed off claims that his job could be on the line if Liverpool do not return to Europe’s elite by insisting he has a squad good enough to get the club back into the Champions League.

The Anfield manager and the club claim chairman David Moores’ seemingly critical remarks in a report to shareholders have been misinterpreted.

And Houllier, who also branded as “nonsense” a weekend report that he had been offered a job with the Australian Football Association, was equally dismissive of the interpretation of Moores’ comments that Champions League qualification was the “minimum acceptable target”.

“We are still in a decent league position going into the turn of the year,” said Houllier.

“We were without six players at Newcastle at the weekend who are first-team regulars in Michael Owen, Harry Kewell, Steve Finnan, Jamie Carragher, Milan Baros and Stephane Henchoz.

“I think pretty well everybody will be back in January. After that I think we will be really in there fighting strong to improve our position and get into the top four or third place, which is not out of reach.”

Owen, Kewell and Finnan could all be back before Christmas. But it is the loss of Owen for the third time this season with unrelated ankle, calf and thigh injuries – none of which is in anyway connected to his previous history of hamstring troubles – that has hit Houllier hardest.

He said: “With those problems, I think our position is not bad.”

Moores’ shareholders report underlined that Champions League qualification was the minimum requirement. But the club have moved to quell reports that Moores’ comments indicated Houllier’s job could be on the line by publishing the report in full on their website.

Houllier told BBC Sport: “I laughed when I read the interpretation of what has been said. The chairman was simply saying what I have said all along.

“We set our target to get into the Champions League and we want to win every competition we enter.

“We have to have a winning culture at Liverpool and we have won trophies here, although it is obvious we wanted to be in the Champions League this season.”

Moores has since distanced himself from suggestions he had delivered an ultimatum to Houllier and the Liverpool boss is in optimistic mood about the future.

He said: “Steven Gerrard has just signed a new contract here and expressed his view about the way he feels things are going.

“He is happy to stay because he sees we are moving forward. The board simply want to make sure we are keeping going and moving forward.

“There is more pressure from external things. What is important is what is felt inside the club.

“If you have got the support of the board and a connection with your players you have no problems, and I have that.”

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