Houllier's stock on the rise in FA circles

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Gérard Houllier's Champions' League progress with Lyon has restored some lustre to a reputation that took a battering in his final days as the Liverpool manager and his progress has been noted at the Football Association, where the Frenchman is being discussed as a contender for a role in the England team set-up next season.

Supporters of Houllier at the FA have suggested that, if the three-man committee that is overseeing the appointment process is to opt for a young English coach such as Stuart Pearce, then the Lyon manager's experience would be an ideal foil. The concept of a two-man team in control of England has the support of the Premier League chairman Dave Richards, one of the committee members, who is also adamant that at the very least the younger man in the partnership should be English.

With none of the English candidates equipped with experience of Champions' League football, never mind the international scene, the involvement of Houllier would be an acceptable way of balancing that deficit and appeasing those who insist that the coaching role must be taken by an Englishman. The Lyon manager is understood to be among those managers the FA chief executive Brian Barwick will speak to before 5 April. It is that date which the FA has provisionally set as a deadline for Barwick to complete his "informal meetings" with about 10 candidates whom the governing body has decided to consult, although it is unclear whether, as of yesterday, he had spoken to Houllier. The 58-year-old is still held in some esteem in certain quarters of the FA, who admire the work he did in a technical director's role for the French Football Federation from 1988 to 1992.

Lyon are nine points clear at the top of the French first division and he has also taken them to the quarter-finals of the Champions' League, in which they drew their first-leg match 0-0 against Milan on Wednesday. In the summer he signed a two-year contract with the French champions and appears more robust following his year's rest after being sacked by Liverpool in 2003 when the club failed to qualify for the Champions' League.

As a compromise candidate to complement one of the managers being pushed by different factions within the FA, Houllier fits the bill. Alan Curbishley's case has been supported by Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, while Barwick has advocated Martin O'Neill's suitability. With Sam Allardyce also among those interviewed, it is felt in certain quarters that all these candidates would be less of a gamble if they had a senior figure's help and advice.

The FA approached Houllier as a possible technical director before Sven Goran Eriksson was appointed in December 2000, but the then Liverpool manager stayed on at Anfield and enjoyed his most successful year at the club. Although he has a reputation for being demanding, his role in the establishment of the Clarefontaine academy that has produced a generation of great French footballers has earned him the respect of administrators.

The English equivalent of that project , the national football centre at Burton-upon-Trent, has been abandoned, although the original intention was to copy many of the concepts created by Houllier. Within a new England set-up, the role of the more senior man would be to advise and support the younger coach with the team rather than establish wider strategies for developing young players.

Houllier's knowledge of the English game and the players who make up the senior squad is also in his favour ,although there is no firm suggestion yet that he would walk away from Lyon. With no agreement yet on the structure of the England regime post-Eriksson, Houllier, like many others, awaits the FA's next move.

* Guus Hiddink could sign a deal to take over the Russian national team as soon as next week. Russian media reports suggest that talks over a two-year contract for the Dutchman have reached their final stages.