Houllier is a strong area of debate for a lot of Liverpool fans and with his recent appointment as new boss at Aston Villa history will no doubt be delved into and his reign at Liverpool will be a source of debate once again. Whenever a new manager is appointed they are examined in great detail and it will be no surprise to see over the next few days the papers coming back and examining the highs and the lows of Houllier’s previous tenure in the Premiership.
Houllier for me is a very hard manager to write about, he laid foundations for a successful side by bringing in players like Henchoz, McAllister, Riise, Hamann and club legend Sami Hyypia, arguably one of the best transfers ever made in the Premiership. On top of this players like Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen came on in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Houllier. A lot of his transfers also proved to be extremely useful under his successor Rafa Benitez and people like Hyypia, Hamann and Dudek all played various roles in Benitez’s Liverpool reign.
Another of Houllier’s undeniable successes was in bringing back a lot of professionalism within the club as well as dragging it into a more modern era by implementing squad rotation to some degree and phasing out what he considered to be a drinking culture within the club. He dragged the side from the under-achieving era of the ‘Spice Boys’ and updated Liverpool dramatically. Discipline and respect was brought back to the team and this must be remembered as one of Houllier’s crowning achievements. Trophies were also collected regularly throughout his tenureship and despite many underplaying these as minor competition wins (including the Historic Treble) he still brought plenty of silverware to a side that had been criminally lacking in any since the departure of Kenny Dalglish.
Despite these achievements though it is also paramount to mention Houllier’s shortcomings and big mistakes. Houllier’s dealings in the transfer market were very hit and miss, a number of high profile flops were signed by the Frenchman as well as the mistakes made by choosing not to sign players like Nicolas Anelka. Smicer though possessing talent and providing a hero’s goal in Istanbul still failed overall to live up to his price tag, controversial transfers like Nick Barmby also failed to impress and also lacked in fitness in his short period with the club and was sold a short while later to Leeds for significantly less than he was bought for. It would be possible to go on for quite some team about the disappointingly underwhelming players that Houllier brought to the club but also pointless, everyone knows about disappointing careers of players like Kirkland, Diao, Diouf, Sinemma Pongolle and Cheyrou. For all of Houllier’s success stories in the transfer market there was unfortunately at least one if not more disappointments for every masterstroke made.
Another of Houllier’s weaknesses that Villa fans will potentially be concerned about was his lack of inventiveness and general caution in play. The team was often too direct and too rigid under Houllier with a very inflexible 442 which clearly lacked in flair. Despite this though it can at least be said Houllier did try to rectify it with transfers like Diouf and Kewell but also notably these players failed to provide the solution. Also worth remembering is that despite these obvious flaws his tactics did have their strengths in that the side was very organised and effective in part.
Paul Tomkins (2008) I feel offers the best assessment of Houllier’s reign, dividing it into two distinct periods. The first one being largely very successful as he built up a good side and won a number of trophies for the club, the second being after his heart attack where sadly things went wrong for Houllier. Following his health problems it is clear that things were not the same and the team undoubtedly started to decline. It is then very hard to try and sum up his years at Liverpool when it was so greatly divided between the spectacular achievements but also the spectacular failures. It is understandable then why so many fans and so many in the press are completely at opposite ends over whether they think he will be a failure or a success at his new club.
With his reign at Villa just beginning the only thing that will be certain about Houllier’s return to the Premiership is that he will be greeted with open arms and plenty of applause from the Anfield crowd… Whether or not be proves to be a prosperous manager for Aston Villa however is a very hard prediction to try and make and a one that most fans will look forward to finding out.
Written by Robert Riddell