Magazine article The Spectator

Passion Victims

Magazine article The Spectator

Passion Victims

Article excerpt

SPECTATOR SPORT

'HEALTH comes first,' said the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. `But we usually make passion come first.' He said this in the aftermath of the collapse of Gerard Houllier, the manager of Liverpool, who felt chest pains during his half-time team talk. His team was a goal down to Leeds United at the time.

Houllier was taken to hospital, had openheart surgery and is in intensive care as I write. His assistant, Phil Thompson, saw him shortly before the operation. `Who scored?' Houllier asked. His side had managed a 1-1 draw.

Passion. I am reminded of the French film of the Sixties, Un Homme et Une Femme, in which a rally driver completes some epic drive across France. He receives a telegram: 'Je t'aime.' Immediately, he is back in a car and roaring thousands more miles through the night.

Most of us have done something like that. That is to say, we have indulged in utterly loony behaviour that people would say was completely out of character. It wasn't. It was simply an exceptional response to the sort of exceptional situation that comes along to everybody every now and then.

For there is no denying passion. When it strikes, we are all at its mercy. But for some people the madness of passion becomes a necessity. That is why gentlemen in their fifties with wise and sensible views about life - Wenger, Houllier, the England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, to name but three - manage football teams.

The 90 minutes of the match are the most terrible and the most compelling, the time that lays bare the truth: the manager has responsibility without power. …

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