Former manager Gerard Houllier returns to Liverpool this evening for the first time as an opposing manager since his departure six years ago.
The Frenchman, now in charge of Aston Villa, revolutionised Liverpool and led the side to an unprecedented Cup treble in 2001. He also led the team to their best League finish since 1991 when his side came runners-up in 2002. That season saw Gary McAllister play a crucial role in Houllier’s side, the Scotsman also returns for the first time, as Houllier’s assistant at Villa. Gary Macca was one of the many inspired signings Houllier’s in those first two seasons, ranking alongside Sami Hyypia, Markus Babbel, Stephane Henchoz and Didi Hamann.
A life saving heart operation changed the course of his reign at Anfield, when he was taken ill at half-time during a match against Leeds United in 2001, something he now admits took it’s toll. The following summer he signed El Hadji Diouf, preferring the Senegal striker over Nicolas Anelka who had been on loan, something most fans view to have been the turning point on what was, until then, an impressive transfer record.
This is something defender Jamie Carragher recognises “He came back too soon. I think he’d say himself now that he’d probably have been better waiting until the end of the season. That was just his enthusiasm for football. Obviously it didn’t help him that summer when he made certain decisions but for the first three or four years he was the best manager I’ve had.”
Carragher even went as far as to say the treble success was more of an achievement than the Champions League win in 2005, “It’s actually a better achievement than Istanbul. Istanbul as a one off will never be beaten by anyone but someone wins the Champions League every year. To win three cup competitions in one season – that’s not something that happens very often, not just at Liverpool but anywhere.”
Houllier’s departure in 2004 was mutual, and even included a press conference to announce it. Rafa Benitez was appointed the following month.
Houllier has sat in the Anfield dug out once already this season, at Carragher’s testimonial with Everton in September. He was invited by Roy Hodgson, a close friend of Houllier’s. “We have been friends for over 20 years, we’ve done a lot of work together in Europe for Uefa in the technical study groups and Fifa as well for that matter,” said Hodgson.
“I am delighted he is back in English football and I am certain he will get a very good reception because people appreciated the work he did for Liverpool.”
Houllier himself is hoping for a good reception on his return, “It is a club I liked even before going there so, having spent six years there, and being together with some people, obviously you can’t forget the club.”
Two key players Houllier developed during his reign where Carragher and Steven Gerrard, both are missing through injury for tonight’s match though. “I would have wished Steven and Jamie would be playing against us because I like them as men and as players,” said Houllier.
The final two season’s of Houllier’s tenure at Anfield should not spoil what was, overall, a hugely successful spell for Liverpool FC.
“Allez Allez, Gerard Houllier”