I got to know Gerard Houllier while he was manager at Liverpool and when he took over at Aston Villa in 2010 he gave me a scouting role, which I thoroughly enjoy. I spend a lot of time in Europe, watching players for Villa. Under Gerard I used to watch a lot more games in the Barclays Premier League and the Championship but since Alex McLeish took over I have probably been going abroad a lot more.
Scouting is something I have done in the past, but not as intensely as I have done for Villa these past two seasons. I've really enjoyed it and it enhances my knowledge of players in Europe, especially in France, Holland and Germany. Those are the three countries that I have been asked to specialise in. We have other scouts who will concentrate on Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe, so you're not spreading yourself too thin. There are many quality players out there who would be terrific if they were brought to the Barclays Premier League.
It's all about obtaining the knowledge by going to watch individual clubs that are doing well. In this day and age there are so many websites and scouting systems out there, so we spend time researching young players and if one of them keeps popping up then we will get out to see them play.
I would certainly look forward to going into a senior role at a football club. It wouldn't have to be managing. When I look back since retiring from playing, I have covered every role in a full-time capacity that there is to cover in a football club. The role that would interest me greatly is that of sporting director, or director of football. I think I'd be highly qualified for that role, because I have done everything from managing in the Barclays Premier League to being academy director at Newcastle.
I really feel that the role of director of football is gradually growing in this country. I think it will be a good thing when it does take off. From my experiences of travelling in Europe I've seen that every single club, no matter how big or small, has a director of football to help the manager. Surely they can't all be wrong?
I think we've been very slow to develop the role in this country, but gradually more clubs are starting to do it. Steve Coppell has just taken that role on at Crawley and I think Crawley should be congratulated for taking the decision to hire him and use all of his experience.
Understandably much of the scepticism perhaps comes from a generation of managers who have been managing for many years before the role was heard of. However, I think that the job of a manager has become so pressurised, especially in the Barclays Premier League , that I don't think a manager can do it all on their own. I believe that having the help of a sporting director could take a lot of the pressure away from them.
The problem that we have is that managers are often suspicious that the director of football wants to take their job and that puts clubs off wanting to create that role. One of the best-known sporting directors, Frank Arnesen was a manager at PSV and didn't enjoy it. He moved on to the director of football role, had great success and hasn't been a manager since.
A club that would be a good model for what I am talking about is Reading. Nicky Hammond has been the director of football at Reading for about a decade now. Managers have come and gone, and I don't know of any of them who have not enjoyed working with Nicky because they know he does not want to have their job. He has got his own specialist role. In that period of time Reading have been successful, reaching the Premier League for the first time and regaining promotion back there this season. All the time that has been going on, Nicky has been there.
Absolutely brilliant. That is a club that is very dear to my heart having spent eight years up there as a player and a manager. It's great they are having such success under Alan Pardew, who would be the first to admit that it was Chris Hughton who got them going again after they were relegated. Hughton did extremely well to get them back up again at the first time of asking, which is very important. If you don't do it at the first time of asking then it gets more difficult. The club then made the decision – which was quite unpopular at the time - to let Chris go and bring in Alan. Alan is doing a fantastic job at Newcastle and Chris Hughton is now doing brilliantly at Birmingham.
The person that keeps getting mentioned with Newcastle's success is their chief scout, Graham Carr, who has done wonders with the players that he has found in France, Holland and Germany. I watched Papiss Cisse for Freiburg earlier this season and was very positive about him.
I think Mike Ashley has proved why he is so astute in business. He has sold at the highest point and bought at value for money. He has found the highest prices possible for the players he has sold, and he has reinvested in others who have all proved to be bargains. If they suddenly had to have a fire sale, they could sell all of those players they have bought recently for three or four times what they paid for them.
It's in their hands. They have got themselves in a great position to finish in the top four, and deservedly so. The other teams chasing that place have got to pull up some trees to overtake them, because they are very much in form.
I can only think of two players who I knew who are really featuring on a regular basis under Paul Lambert. He has created his own squad there, which any manager has to be allowed to do, and he cannot be congratulated enough. One of those players is Adam Drury, who has been a stalwart there for many years, and the other is a player I brought in, Wes Hoolahan, who we got for a good price. Lambert has brought in many fantastic players of his own - like Grant Holt - that a lot of managers in the Premier League and Championship might never have looked at. He has got a talent for not only choosing good players but also good characters, because they play with great spirit.
They have a good academy there, too. There is not a great deal of competition for young players from other professional clubs in the local area, which helps. They have a fantastic training ground, and they are very well-supported, with full houses every week even in the Championship. The supporters deserve it.
Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers at Swansea have done two magnificent jobs at their respective clubs this season.
A lot of things I have seen online still refer to it as a heart attack or an aneurysm, but it was a brain tumour that was discovered.
A lot of people talk about the stress of the job, but the surgeon told me that has nothing to do with it. People with all sorts of jobs have the same thing happen to them.
It was nine years ago this week. We had beaten Middlesbrough 1-0 and I had just gone to the post-match press conference as usual.
I had no symptoms at all. I hadn't felt unwell. I went back into the manager's office with my staff and one or two other friends. I can clearly remember that I sat down on one of the sofas and I just fell sideways into the lap of Ken Dyer, an Evening Standard journalist. People thought I had had a heart attack and started giving me CPR, which brought me round. I didn't know what I was doing, and I swung out and caught Ludek Miklosko right on the eye!
Thankfully the club doctor Jeff Steinberg – who is now a personal friend of mine – knew what to do before the ambulance arrived to take me to hospital. After five days of tests they discovered a low grade tumour just behind my forehead, which they removed successfully and is the reason why I am here today.
Doctors like that, or the people who saved Fabrice Muamba, they are the real stars in my eyes. Footballers get all the praise and superstar status, but it is doctors like that who deserve all the acclaim.
Everyone in football is competitive. They would not be in professional sport otherwise. But once it's all over, and one of the members of the football family get into bother or fall ill, it's amazing how people in the sport come together.
There is a lot of bad publicity that footballers get, and some of it is deserved, but there is a lot of good things footballers do that never gets a mention, because those who make the decisions decide it doesn't warrant any coverage in the papers. There are lots of good people in football who do amazing things that never get mentioned.
Yes, we are all competing against each other when we play, but as soon as it's all over people will unite when one of them is in trouble.