A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Gerard Houllier when he was visiting the United States for a coaching clinic at the annual National Soccer Coaches of America Association (NSCAA) event in Baltimore. He was the perfect gentleman, who had plenty of time for the press, but he also seemed so at ease on the football pitch training young kids and offering words of wisdom.
Now that Houllier has returned to English football after being selected as manager of Aston Villa, I’m really looking forward to seeing him back in the top league. When he was at Liverpool, he had a mixed record. He helped nurture Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard into better footballers, but he also left Liverpool in a state and missed out on important transfers that could have made Liverpool FC a different club today entirely. For a comprehensive review of his career at Liverpool, read this fantastic article about Houllier written by Paul Tomkins.
It’s the Liverpool connection that interests me most about Houllier. The Premier League has changed a lot since he left Liverpool in 2004. The amount of time he’ll have to work on Aston Villa to turn them into a more powerful team will be limited if he’s unable to get the results the club needs in short order. So I hope that he starts well and is given some time and patience to adapt. After all, if he can make it to December, the prospect of Houllier returning to Anfield on December 4th when Liverpool plays Aston Villa is quite enticing.
Houllier is a man who exudes class. For Aston Villa to secure him as a manager is a massive coup. This is a man who has coached several clubs teams in France, winning Ligue Un with Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon, as well as winning the FA Cup with Liverpool in addition to two League Cups, the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup. He also managed the French national team, although unsuccessfully from 1992-93 as they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. More recently, he has been serving as technical director for the French national team.
The biggest question about Houllier is whether he still has what it takes to perform at the top as a Premier League manager. Luckily he has a team that has a ton of talent despite losing key players such as Gareth Barry and James Milner. But Aston Villa is talented in every position on the field. It’s just a matter of Houllier being able to get more out of his team. And, in particular, ensuring that the team is consistent throughout the entire season where they typically drop off near the end. The other improvement needed at Aston Villa is the killer blow. They’ve come so close in the past to beating Big Four clubs but often seem to fall just short of achieving it.
No matter what happens, I’m looking forward to Gerard Houllier’s reign at Aston Villa. If Randy Lerner could have picked any manager who has experience in the Premier League and who was available to be hired, Houllier would be top of my list.
Houllier’s first game in charge for Villa is this Monday against Stoke City at 3pm ET/8pm GMT. Viewers in the United States can see the game on ESPN3.com