Gerard Houllier: How to deal with big egos

The former Liverpool and France boss managed Eric Cantona, David Ginola and El Hadji Diouf – but what's the secret to dealing with colourful characters?

Hi Gerard, you managed a number of big personalities during your career - what can a coach do to get the best out of temperamental characters?
Firstly, you need to understand them. Football is different to the industrial world, because sometimes the player who has got a temperamental attitude or a strong character, wins you games. He is influential when it comes to results. You need to make the group understand that he may not be made from the same texture. Every person is different. I am different from you and you are different to me, and so on, but it is your quality that is going to make the team win. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude towards the player and understand how they behave and why.

Do you understand a player through dialogue, experience or human intuition?
It’s a bit of everything, all of what you said plus maybe human knowledge. As I said, we are all different, but people with personality may be different to handle - I don’t say more difficult, but different. [Eric] Cantona was one of them, but he made a team win. I had a player at PSG who was a great player and captain. He could be a problem, but when he was on the pitch he wasn’t a problem. You just have to accept and understand that.

More after the break

Is it becoming more difficult for coaches to handle players?
The personality of young players now and 20 years ago has totally changed. You need to understand and accept that. The young players now are probably more exciting to lead and manage. Why? Because they know more, because they like to have more responsibility, because they like to work more as a team. Obviously, they are more individualistic. It’s a bit of a fast-food generation, a zapping generation - but they know more and are more responsible. They can work in a team. If you understand that, it becomes easy.

What if a player starts to  divide the dressing room?
Every player has an aptitude to do something, but the attitude determines everything in your life. You went through studies and your job. The attitude determines how well you will use your aptitude, how well you will use your skill. That’s why the attitude is fundamental. A player has to have the right attitude. If he hasn’t - that happened to me sometimes, well, you have to get rid of him. I do believe that the group should reach out to the player on his own, but the player must also approach the group and make an effort to mix with the team. 

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