Gérard Paul Francis Houllier OBE (French pronunciation: [ʒeʁaʁ ulje]; born 3 September 1947) is a French football manager and former player. His past clubs include Paris Saint-Germain, Lens and Liverpool, with whom he won the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2001. He then guided Olympique Lyonnais to two French titles, before announcing his resignation on 25 May 2007. He became manager of Aston Villa in September 2010. He also coached the France national team between 1992 and 1993. He assisted Aimé Jacquet in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, was part of UEFA's and FIFA's Technical Committee in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, and technical director for the French Football Federation during the 2010 finals. In June 2011, he stepped down from club coaching, leaving his managerial role at Aston Villa, following frequent hospitalisation over heart problems.
Gérard Houllier at Old Trafford in 2008
|Full name||Gérard Paul Francis Houllier|
|Date of birth||3 September 1947|
|Place of birth||Thérouanne, France|
|1988–1992||France (assistant manager)|
|1998||Liverpool (joint with Roy Evans)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Since July 2012, Houllier has been head of global football for Red Bull. He is responsible for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, Germany's RB Leipzig and American club New York Red Bulls, as well as the now dissolved Red Bull Brasil and Red Bull Ghana academies.
Houllier entered Lille University to pursue a degree in English, but in the first year his father's serious illness forced him to drop out of full-time study and start work, eventually as a school teacher, while he completed his degree part-time. As part of his degree, he elected to spend a year in 1969–1970 in the city of Liverpool as an assistant at Alsop Comprehensive School, and while there he attended his first Liverpool F.C. match on 16 September 1969, a 10–0 thrashing of Irish club Dundalk. He also played for an amateur local side, Alsop. He was an enthusiastic footballer, but never threatened the professional ranks as a player. He was deputy headmaster of the École Normale d'Arras until reaching age 26 in 1973, when he began his full-time managerial career as player-manager of Le Touquet.
Later, Houllier moved to Arras as youth coach, and Nœux-les-Mines as head coach where he won two consecutive promotions into the second division before moving to Lens in 1982. He took Lens to promotion and qualification for the UEFA Cup before moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 1985, where PSG won the French title the following year. In 1988, Houllier was appointed technical director and assistant to the France national team, under manager Michel Platini. Houllier became manager in 1992, but resigned in November 1993 after France failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals.
In October 2011, a new book on football coaching, Secrets de coachs (Coaches' Secrets), was published. In that book, Houllier blamed France's 2–1 defeat by Bulgaria on winger David Ginola's missed cross that allowed Bulgaria to launch a decisive counter-attack and score their winning goal in the final minute of the final qualifying group match in Paris on 17 November 1993. In response to Houllier allegedly making disparaging remarks on Ginola and referring to Ginola in offensive terms in that book in relation to Ginola's fatal error in that match, Ginola filed a lawsuit for alleged defamation against Houllier. The lawsuit was dismissed by a French court in April 2012. Regardless, Houllier remained with the team as a technical director.
In 1998, France won the World Cup, and Houllier was recognised for his contributions to the game. He was the technical director for the French Football Federation (FFF) during France's first round debacle at the 2010 World Cup, criticising coach Raymond Domenech for his isolated method of management. In the wake of that debacle, Houllier did not call for the then-FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes to resign; instead, he stated that Escalettes should remain in his post.
In July 1998, Houllier was invited to become joint team manager of Liverpool, together with Roy Evans. The arrangement did not work out and Evans resigned in November after losing to Tottenham Hotspur 3–1 at home in the League Cup on 10 November 1998. Prior to the defeat, Liverpool were eliminated from the UEFA Cup by Spanish side Celta de Vigo. The departure of Evans left Houllier in sole charge of the team.
Houllier began what he described as a five-year programme to rebuild the team, and restore discipline to a squad that had been labelled widely as "Spice Boys", as well as begin a continental approach both tactically as well as in terms of personnel, to the game starting in 1999. That summer, Paul Ince, David James, Jason McAteer, Rob Jones, Tony Warner and Steve Harkness were all sold, while Steve McManaman left on a free transfer. Simultaneously, eight new players were signed: Sami Hyypiä, Dietmar Hamann, Stéphane Henchoz, Vladimír Šmicer, Sander Westerveld, Titi Camara, Eric Meijer and Djimi Traoré. Liverpool's training facilities at Melwood were also thoroughly overhauled.
The rebuilding continued in 2000 with the signings of Markus Babbel, Nicky Barmby, Pegguy Arphexad, Grégory Vignal, Emile Heskey, Gary McAllister, Igor Bišćan and Christian Ziege, as well as the departures of David Thompson, Phil Babb, Dominic Matteo, Steve Staunton, Brad Friedel and Stig Inge Bjørnebye. The efforts yielded a result in the successful 2000–01 season, when Liverpool won a cup treble of the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup and finished third in the Premier League, hence qualifying for Champions League. In August 2001, Liverpool won the Charity Shield against Manchester United and UEFA Super Cup against Bayern Munich.
In October 2001, after falling ill at half-time in the Liverpool's Premier League match with Leeds United, Houllier was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation due to the discovery of a heart condition, an aortic dissection. With the help of caretaker manager Phil Thompson, he guided Liverpool to the second-place finish in the league, at the time their best record in the Premiership. Houllier returned to active management of the club after five months, although significantly weakened by the heart condition.
In the 2002–03, Liverpool finished in the fifth place in the Premier League, failing to qualify for the following season's UEFA Champions League. Critics blamed Houllier's unsuccessful summer signings in 2002, namely El Hadji Diouf (Lens, £10 million), Salif Diao (Sedan, £5 million) and Bruno Cheyrou (Lille, £4 million), and his failure to make Nicolas Anelka's loan move permanent in favour of signing the ineffective Diouf. Houllier's failure to replace creative talents such as Gary McAllister and Jari Litmanen was also criticized. A lack of success in the following seasons when Liverpool struggled to qualify for the Champions League despite substantial investment in players, with what was perceived as negative one-dimensional tactics and unattractive football, a poor youth policy, his constant mention of "turning corners" and a lack of support from fans led to Houllier's departure from Liverpool on 24 May 2004. He left by mutual consent with the club and was replaced by Valencia coach Rafael Benítez.
Much of Houllier's youth policy was based on bringing in what he regarded as the best that France had to offer. Since he was head of technical development at the FF before he joined Liverpool, he was familiar with young football talents in France. Houllier's last purchase for Liverpool was Djibril Cissé, who arrived after Houllier departed for £14 million; Cissé was out for most of the first season with a broken leg. However, in the 2005–06 season, Cissé finished as Liverpool's second-highest goalscorer with 19 goals in all competitions (six in Champions League qualifiers, two in the UEFA Super Cup and nine in the Premier League), and scored Liverpool's first goal in their FA Cup victory in May 2006. However, after an alleged bust-up with Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez, Cissé was loaned to Marseille for the 2006–07 season. On 30 August 2006, Florent Sinama Pongolle, signed by Houllier in 2001, left Liverpool for a season-loan with Recreativo de Huelva.
On 29 May 2005, it was announced that Houllier had signed a two-year contract as manager of the champions of Ligue 1, succeeding Paul Le Guen. Olympique Lyonnais had just won their previous fourth successive championship and Houllier was hired to convert this domestic dominance to the European stage. Despite continuing this dominance of Ligue 1, Lyon lost to Milan in the quarter-finals of the 2005–06 Champions League while they crashed out to the inexperienced Roma in the first knockout round of the 2006–07 Champions League . Houllier also suffered a cup final defeat (Coupe de la Ligue) to Bordeaux. However, in April 2007, Houllier won his second-straight (Lyon's sixth-straight) Ligue 1 title after Toulouse's loss to Rennes. The 2006–07 season proved to be his last with the club: on 25 May 2007, he stepped down due to a fractious relationship with outspoken chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, who was frustrated at the club's inability to convert domestic dominance into European success. An official statement on Lyon's website stated that Houllier asked to be released from the last season of his contract and that request was granted by the president. Houllier also said that he needed a break after experiencing two seasons with Lyon.
On 8 September 2010, it was announced that English Premier League club Aston Villa had appointed Houllier as their new full-time manager, following the resignation of previous boss Martin O'Neill the month before. In his first press conference at the club, it was revealed Houllier had not yet signed a contract and would not take charge of the club until a later date due to commitments with the French Football Federation.
Houllier's first match in charge was the League Cup match against Blackburn Rovers on 22 September. Villa won the match 3–1, coming back from a goal down to progress to the next round of the competition. It was announced on 18 September 2010 that Gary McAllister had agreed to become his assistant manager, with Gordon Cowans also taking a role in Houllier's backroom staff. Two days after the Blackburn match, he signed a three-year contract. However, Houllier's start at the club proved to be a difficult one. The side was hit with a number of injuries to key players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and Emile Heskey, and managed just one win in ten Premier League matches. In November 2010, Houllier signed 37-year-old former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires on a free transfer in an attempt to aid the club during its injury crisis. By January 2011, Villa had picked up just 21 points from 20 Premier League matches. The club had also been knocked out of the League Cup the previous month by local rivals Birmingham City. On 5 January, Villa were beaten 1–0 at home by Sunderland; this loss left Villa in 18th position in the league table, the first time they had been in the relegation zone since 2002. During the match, a selection of the home crowd targeted Houllier with chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning" to vent their frustration at the club's poor run of form. Despite this, Villa directors acted quickly to insist that Houllier's job as manager was safe.
In the January transfer Window, Houllier signed Kyle Walker on loan from Tottenham Hotspur in a bid to improve Villa's struggling defence. This signing was followed by the arrival of Jean Makoun from Houllier's former club Lyon, before Sunderland's Darren Bent was brought to Villa Park in a deal that broke the club's previous transfer record. Villa's January transfer window was rounded off with the loan signing of American international midfielder Michael Bradley from Borussia Mönchengladbach. In February 2011, Houllier criticised the commitment of Villa defenders Habib Beye and Stephen Warnock. The pair were forced to train with the club's reserve side and were not selected by the Frenchman, even when the club faced even more injury concerns. After the defeat to Sunderland, Villa underwent a revival, winning five and drawing three of their next nine matches, including defeating Manchester City 1–0 in a run which saw the team climb to 12th.
However, Villa were eliminated from the FA Cup by Manchester City via a 3–0 away loss in early March. Houllier chose to rest a number of key first-team players, a move that was criticised by fans and the media alike. The club's league form also failed to improve. During a team-bonding exercise at a health spa in Leicestershire, Villa defenders James Collins and Richard Dunne were involved in a confrontation with club staff. The players were each fined two weeks' wages. However, Houllier claimed the incident did not affect team morale. On 19 March, Villa faced local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League at Villa Park. Prior to the match, a banner reading, "Had enough, Houllier out" was unveiled by some supporters in the stadium's Holte End stand. However, this was quickly removed by the club's stewarding staff. The away side won 1–0 thanks to a goal from Matt Jarvis, claiming their first win against Aston Villa in 31 years. Towards the end of the match, the home fans once again verbally attacked Houllier with chants of "we want Houllier out" and "you don't know what you're doing", before giving a chorus of boos at the final whistle.
On 20 April, Houllier was admitted to hospital after falling ill in the night. His condition was said to be stable, but he was not able to be at Aston Villa's training session the following day, and was not able to attend their match against Stoke City on 23 April, or any subsequent matches of the 2010–11 season. Gary McAllister took charge of all first team affairs in his stead. On 1 June, Gerard Houllier stepped down as manager of Aston Villa by mutual consent. In Houllier's only season, Villa finished 9th: they have not finished higher than 15th since his departure.
Houllier has been awarded the Légion d'honneur for his services to French football, and an honorary OBE for services to British football, along with fellow manager, compatriot and friend Arsène Wenger.
- FA Cup: 2000–01
- Football League Cup: 2000–01, 2002–03
- FA Charity Shield: 2001
- UEFA Cup: 2000–01
- UEFA Super Cup: 2001
- UEFA Team of the Year: 2001
- European Coach of the Year—Alf Ramsey Award: 2001
- World Soccer Magazine World Manager of the Year: 2001
- Onze d'Or Coach of the Year: 2001
- Ligue 1 Manager of the Year: 2007
- Premier League Manager of the Month: December 1999, March 2002, October 2002
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