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Why I'm Looking Forward to Gerard Houllier's Return to English Football

Gerard HOULLIER - 15.02.2009 - Monaco / Marseille - 24 eme journee de Ligue 1.Photo : Xavier Grimaldi Photo via Newscom

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

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  1. SantaClaus

    September 10, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I’m looking forward to seeing how Houlier does at Aston Villa. I thought he was relatively successful at Liverpool even after taking into account his last couple of years after his heart attack. I think he will do a good job at Villa given the squad he has there and with not much money to spend. Given that I believe Villa will be in the mix for a Europa league spot.

  2. Ben

    September 10, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Houllier seems to have done alright for himself in France. He failed no more (in my eyes) at Liverpool, than any other manager has in recent years. I think football has become such a huge industry that miracles are often expected of managers these days. I don’t think we’ll see any miracles but I don’t think the (g)odds will be against him.

  3. Cricketlover

    September 9, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    In addition to the two League Cups, the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup, Houlier also won the 2001 Uefa Cup in 2001 with Liverpool.

    I always admired Houlier in his early years with Liverpool. Everything changed after his heart attack which was a shame because up to that point he was on the right track. His present circumstance with Aston Villa is eagerly awaited by many football followers since no one knows if we will see the Houlier of the early Liverpool days or the one after his heart attack at the end of his Liverpool days. Personally, I wish him well and hope he is a success at Aston Villa.

  4. Premier League Guy

    September 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Houllier didn’t really have to do much to ‘nurture’ Michael Owen. When Owen was younger he was a different class. If anything he compromised Owen’s later career by constantly rushing him back from injury when he wasn’t ready and the result was a chronic succession of injuries. He also isolated a Liverpool legend in Robbie Fowler.

    That said, he was a meticulous man when at Liverpool. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard often waxed lyrical about his influence on their careers. The problem for Houllier, however, was that when he got sick circa 2002, he never really was the same manager. He made a number of ridiculous big money buys in Salif Diao, El Haj Diouf, Bruno Cheyrou and Igor Biscan and his tactical nuance pretty much came down to thumping the ball long for Owen to chase.

    If you read Jamie Carragher’s autobiography you’ll hear how disillusioned all the players at the club were just before Rafa Benitez took over. Michael Owen ended up leaving, Gerrard very nearly did too.

    He is now 7 years older and the league has come on a lot since then. It is much more competitive and the pressure is even greater. I’m not sure his health will hold up under the strain. I reckon he’ll last a season at most.

    One thing that is certain, however, is that he is a great man motivator. And with a lot of Villa players probably feeling pretty disillusioned themselves right now, he’ll definitely pick up the mood. I just wonder at what cost.

    • The Gaffer

      September 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      There’s a link in the story to an article by Paul Tomkins where he talks about how Gerard Houllier worked with Michael Owen to change him from a one-footed player (when he used only his right foot to strike the ball) to a player who could score with either foot. The article goes into more detail regarding Houllier’s topsy-turvy time at ‘Pool, but Houllier’s results after his heart attack scare were far worse than those before the incident.

      I highly recommend reading Tomkins’s piece.

      The Gaffer

      • Premier League Guy

        September 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm

        I am familiar with Paul’s work and the regular column he used to do with the Liverpool website before getting sick.

        There is no question that Houllier was good at his job, it’s all manager’s jobs to teach player’s to improve their weaknesses – Torres often praises Benitez for making him the player he is today. But there are many things Houllier did that were out of order.

        Firstly, claiming that he ‘discovered’ Steven Gerrard shortly after ousting Roy Evans in their ridiculous joint management venture. Steve Heighway and Dave Shannon in the Liverpool academy had been raving and ‘nurturing’ the young boy from Huyton long before the French entourage invaded.

        Secondly, walking into the changing room uninvited on the night of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League triumph and celebrating with the team that he claimed he ‘built’.

        I just think he’s a bit up his own arse is all and if you go on some of the Villa fans messageboards, so do they.

  5. Simon Burke

    September 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Good luck to him – he is a bit of an unknown which is daft when you think of the time with Liverpool and all the trophies he won (though never the big 2). I always liked him though he made Liverpool pretty unwatchable during those years. I think Villa fans have done well here.

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