Houllier wanted Damiano

Wednesday 12 December 2001

Fulham's Christian Damiano will be a visitor at Anfield tonight but he would have been a permanent fixture had Gerard Houllier got his way.

Damiano, Jean Tigana's No2, is one of the Liverpool manager's oldest friends in football. They spent 11 years together at the French Football Federation where they ran the national team and youth set-up.

Houllier will not be at Anfield to meet his old friend tonight as he is recuperating from the emergency heart surgery he had eight weeks ago after being taken ill during his team's 1-1 draw with Leeds.

The Liverpool manager has been keen for Damiano to move to Anfield since joining the club in 1998.

Damiano would still be a welcome addition to Liverpool's coaching staff but despite his friendship with Houllier, the 50-year-old coach remains loyal to Fulham.

He said: "It would have been good to work with him again because he gives everything in his job.

"When you work with someone all the time you share your passion for the game and you become friends.

"We had a fantastic adventure in France and he asked me to go with him to Liverpool but I had given my word to others.

"I've called Gerard since his operation and put pressure on him to relax, to take his time and sleep because I know what his life was like. He worked all the time and has a fantastic capacity to keep going but he had very little rest. Everybody needs to protect him from this because he is a brilliant manager.

"But I think he understands this too because he was very lucky after what happened to him. Everything went for him.

"The problems came at half-time rather than after the game when the traffic might have made things difficult-At the hospital he had a great doctor and he reacted well to the treatment. I think he can return to a normal life."

Houllier is expected to be back at work in January. However, last week Roma coach Fabio Capello urged the Liverpool manager to consider quitting his job because of the health risks it holds for him.

Damiano said: "Gerard wants to come back because football is his life. I think if he recovers there is no reason why he should not return. His job was going well before he had the problem and his staff have made sure it has continued while he has been away so he has a lot to look forward to."

Similar French football philosophies influence both teams even if their styles of play are different and tonight's Premiership match should be one for the purists.

But Liverpool's John Arne Riise may not enjoy it as much as the other players. The 21-year-old midfielder expects to be booed by the Fulham fans after agreeing to join their club in June for £4 million from Monaco before accepting a similar offer to move to Anfield instead.

Damiano said: "He was an important transfer for us and we were very disappointed as he made a big mistake in giving his word to Fulham.

"The next day he changed his decision. He is young but he has many advisors and maybe they told him to do this.

"Liverpool and Fulham are interested in similar players because we have similar methods and I am sure it will continue to be like that."

If they can achieve the same level of success, there won't be too many Fulham fans complaining.