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Gerard Houllier – a welcome return to the PL, or past his sell-by date?

Any manager that can coax ineffective striker Emile Heskey into scoring 22 goals in one season must surely have the sufficient ability and man management skills to be a success in the Premier League.

That is exactly what Frenchman Gerard Houllier managed to do in his third full season at Liverpool as he guided the club to a unique cup treble, winning the FA, UEFA and League Cup all in one season. After a six year spell on Merseyside, Houllier departed in May 2004 after failing to build on the success of the club’s second placed finish in 2002.

Houllier looks now set to return to English football in the next few days and has reportedly accepted an offer from club owner Randy Lerner for the vacant manager’s job at Aston Villa. Houllier is expected to head a managerial team supported by the club’s current caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald and former Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton. Houllier’s former No.2 at Liverpool, Phil Thompson, has also been linked with a support role. Despite speculation suggesting Houllier would be taking up a director of football role, he has indeed been offered the chance to become the club’s permanent boss.

At 63, Houllier is no spring chicken, but Roy Hodsgon and Sir Alex Ferguson would confirm that as long as you’re fit then age should have little impact on your managerial capabilities. Houllier of course did need emergency heart surgery nine years ago and concerns remain over the impact the stress of the Premier League could have on his health. Many Reds fans believe Houllier was not the same manager when he returned after his operation, with the club dropping out of the top four in his first full season back in charge.

The former France manager has remained active in football since leaving Anfield however and his experience will be vital to a Villa side still recovering from the shock of losing their manager Martin O’Neil just five days before the start of the season.  Houllier picked up two Ligue 1 titles with Lyon shortly after leaving Liverpool and has since been working as the Technical Director of the French Football Federation.

Despite three French league titles and eight cup successes during his career, Houllier’s purposed appointment has been met with a mixed reaction from Villa fans. Lerner’s right hand man at Villa Park, General Charles Krulak has been quick to defend the Frenchman’s imminent appointment however, saying:

“Any manager worth their salt is going to do some due diligence on the club, and that would probably include reading up on the fans and the type of support they might receive.

‘Take Mr H [Houllier]. What ever anyone thinks of him, he deserves respect from the fans. He has a fine record with multiple clubs and deserves better for the amount of effort he has put into his chosen career than to be ridiculed. We are bigger than that.”

Given his involvement with youth development in France, Houllier will be expected to nurture the talents of young players such as Nathan Delfouneso and Marc Albrighton as he attempts to improve on last year’s sixth place finish under O’Neill. Houllier is however remembered for bringing the likes of perennial underachievers Salif Diao, Bruno Cheyrou and El Hadji Diouf to Liverpool and will need to invest wisely with a smaller budget at Aston Villa.

Houllier is likely to be more of a manager than coach and he is expected to leave first-team training duties to either MacDonald or Thompson. His tactical nous, contacts and broad experience will benefit The Villans and the decision looks a more logical one than the proposed appointment of the less experienced MacDonald on his own. Lerner will hope Houllier can build on his previous cup successes when he becomes the manager at Villa and will be expected to deliver a trophy, something which O’Neill only narrowly failed to achieve during his three seasons at the club. His availability with no added compensation is also a bonus.

Houllier is a sensible option for Villa to take and he be keen to conclude some unfinished business on his return to English football.

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Article title: Gerard Houllier – a welcome return to the PL, or past his sell-by date?

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