It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to a legend of the game. 73 years old with a lifelong footballing career behind him, Gerard Houllier leaves many memories for the supporters of Paris Saint-Germain, Lens and most notably Liverpool.
Born in 1947, Houllier hailed from Therouanne in France. He achieved various high-profile successes over the years, including a memorable 5-4 victory for the Reds over Alves, in the 2001 UEFA Cup final in Dortmund, Germany. He had a stint with Aston Villa in 2010, before becoming the director of football for the French national side that headed to South Africa, for the 2010 World Cup. Up until his sudden death, Gerard was managing at Lyon.
Not only was Houllier a successful manager, but he also nurtured many fine players along the way. These included the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher at Liverpool, who have all played at international level for England. Other players to have been taken under his stewardship include Darren Bent and El-Hadji Diouf.
Despite having huge pedigree at PSG, Houllier was always judged on his career at Liverpool. He won many domestic cups but unfortunately never delivered the Premier League title. His reputation amongst the English media was never appreciated fully. Former Liverpool centre half Jamie Carragher who played under Houllier paid tribute to his former coach recently.
I had only been in touch with him recently, he was due to come to Liverpool. I am forever grateful to him, he made me the player I was.
He was part of the improvements made at Liverpool over the years and came up against the best manager in English football in Sir Alex Ferguson, on various occasions.
The personality of Houllier is something which many people over the years have spoken about. He took on a father role, with former Liverpool icon Ian Rush describing him “as a kind and caring person, both on and off the pitch”. Why did it seem as though he never was given the plaudits that Wenger got at Arsenal and Ferguson got at United? Was he almost considered too nice and not controversial enough?
It is such a shame that the man is only really getting the credit he deserved now and it seems he was being judged solely on league titles alone. The team which Houllier built, was made up of the players which later went on to win the 2005 Champions League Final title under Rafa Benitez.
The likes of Jersey Dudek, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and Milan Baros were the backbone of his side. Houllier built this team and was never really appreciated by people outside of Anfield for doing so. His man-management and ability to get the best out of his squad was overlooked.
His reign lacked huge financial backing in comparison to the Chelsea winning squad of 2005, under Jose Mourinho and the 2012 investment that Manchester City was given, which lead to a league title for the blue moon. It could be argued with proper investments Houllier could have delivered multiple Premier League titles to Anfield. Despite not being valued by the English media, Houllier brought a winning and sometimes feared atmosphere with his squads.
In his recent autobiography, former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson when asked about Gerard and his team said “oh no not them again anybody but them”. Ferguson in the best practical way felt slightly intimidated by Houllier, but his respect for the man was clear. You could say that Ferguson was pushed to improve when Liverpool came to town and that is a credit to the management skills of Houllier.
Houllier was a manager who was warm and always positive towards his side. Despite at times signing what could be viewed as low-quality additions, he remained upbeat. This if anything should be a reason to appreciate him as a highly classed Premier League manager.
Some failed signings that spring to mind include Anthony Le Tallec, Igor Biscan and Abel Xavier. It could have been so easy to come out in public and criticise these players but that wasn’t the man Houllier was. He stuck to his guns and this is something that should be admired. Plenty of Premier League managers get it wrong now and again.
The Frenchman was a leader, a tactical expert and it can be seen in the way his side went about their business. The seasons of 2001 to 2003 is where this is seen most. One of his finest strikers, Michael Owen, spoke recently about Houllier:
Tactically he was very astute. He was good at motivating and getting us working as a unit. He was an incredibly good leader of people.
Gerard Houllier may not have multiple Premier League titles on his CV, but the man was the catalyst behind Liverpool’s success beyond his tenure. He captured the hearts of many throughout his management in England and abroad, leaving a legacy which will live long in the memory. His humble attitude to the game and leadership qualities puts him up with the best managers in England and his success will be spoken about for generations to come.
Hopefully, people can appreciate what he brought to English football more and acknowledge his success in man-managing some of the finest players to play the game. He was one of the most underrated managers in the premier league but hopefully, this view is put to bed.