Gérard Houllier believes that he retains the complete backing of the Aston Villa chairman, Randy Lerner, despite the club's precarious position one point above the relegation zone and mounting unrest from the supporters.
The Villa manager was in defiant mood ahead of Saturday's game at Everton and insisted that he does not feel under any pressure. He spoke of his unwavering belief in his methods as well as his confidence that the players at his disposal have the talent and mental strength to drag the club clear of the bottom three. The Frenchman said stories of player mutiny because of alleged changes to a club rulebook were "completely untrue".
Although there is a sense that the next two fixtures – Newcastle visit Villa Park a week on Sunday – are critical, Houllier has no doubt that Lerner is behind him. Asked whether the chairman's support was as strong ever, he replied: "I think so. In fact I'm convinced of that. I speak to Randy on a regular basis and I speak also to Paul [Faulkner, the chief executive] at least once every day, so we are very close and very tight together. We know what we are going through and we know that we need the forces of everybody. And I think the team knows that. It's important to be in a club where there is strong belief and trust in them."
Houllier said that the key to survival is galvanising everyone connected with the club and he warned that any player not buying into that approach will be moved on. "If someone is not with us and is not giving more than 100%, he's got to leave because he won't make it," he said. "[But] I think we are all right. The spirit is good, we know where the land lies; we're not lying to ourselves, we are in relegation battle."
Houllier has been forced to deal with a number of off-field issues during his six-month reign but he rejected suggestions that he has implemented a new code of conduct in the wake of the fracas involving Richard Dunne and James Collins a fortnight ago that has led to senior players rebelling. "That is absolutely untrue. You can even ask the players," Houllier said. "I didn't mention anything even after the incident [with Dunne and Collins].
"Regarding the mobile phones, I spoke about this the first day I came and that was it. They're very reasonable because there is no mobile phone used in the changing room and I don't go and check. And I've never put a fine on a player who's been late. I hate fines. The second thing is that the set of rules is something that was given by the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association]. I was not even aware of that. And it was given before the Bolton game [on 5 March] because they needed to make a change because they needed the doctor's name and his mobile number."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010