Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2005 has been their greatest success of the last decade, the game in Istanbul made all the more memorable by the nature of the match. Whilst Rafael Benitez rightly took the plaudits for the victory, should credit also be given to his predecessor, Gerard Houllier?
If you look at the squad that Liverpool had that season, it was largely made up by players Houllier had brought in or players he had nurtured, with a sprinkling of Benitez’ own signings also thrown in. In the line-up that started the Champions League final, only Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia had been signed by Benitez, with the rest having been either bought or grown up under Gerard Houllier. The Frenchman himself stated recently that,
“When the team won in Istanbul I went into the changing room afterwards and it was very emotional for me. I was sitting in the corner, all shy, but virtually every player came up to me, gave me a hug and said, ‘This is your yeam, this is our team’. It was funny because until then I hadn’t even noticed that, apart from two players, I had signed and worked with every player in that team.”
It was a team that Houllier had worked with for a long time, with the substitute who changed the game, Dietmar Hamann, also one of his signings. However under him, the club had never really come close to winning the Champions League, with the closest they got a quarter-final defeat to eventual finalists Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.
When Rafael Benitez took over in 2004, he added a number of players to the squad, namely Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia. These players did have a big impact on the squad, and were crucial in Liverpool’s run to the final and eventual victory. Benitez tactical acumen was probably the most crucial factor however, the Spaniard is well known for being a European specialist and this was greatly in evidence in his first season in charge. Benitez did in fact make a rare but major selection error in the final in Istanbul, deciding to field the ineffectual Harry Kewell as a second striker rather than an additional defensive midfielder. When Hamann came on in this position at half-time, it completely changed the game.
Although it was Benitez who guided Liverpool to their fifth European Cup triumph, it was a squad largely assembled by Gerard Houllier, and for this, the Frenchman should certainly take some credit. It would be fair to say that Houllier made some bad signings as Liverpool manager, but he also made some very good ones without whom Liverpool would not have been able to win the Champions League. Players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were also brought up under him, and both speak very fondly of the Frenchman for developing them as players and for the role he played at Liverpool.
Rafael Benitez will always be the man who won the 2005 Champions League, and of course it is absolutely right that he is remembered so. But we should not forget what Houllier did for Liverpool and remember that the squad was largely his, and I certainly would not begrudge Houllier taking a little credit for what was an unforgettable victory.