Dear Gerard, Welcome back.Your first Premier League match in six years.
As you ease into the dug-out at Molineux tomorrow you will notice one or two familiar aspects, but do not be fooled, much has changed since you left Anfield in May 2004. That big centre-half in the opposition, Jody Craddock, he was there on your last visit to Wolves, a 1-1 draw in January 2004. But most players from that time have moved on or dropped out of the elite. Of your Liverpool squad only Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are still at the club, only eight of the squad are still in the Barclays Premier League (it was, you may recall then known as the FA Barclaycard Premiership) and improbably they include El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao. Emile Heskey, as you have noticed, is also still around.
None of the Villa players that came sixth under David O'Leary are still at the club. "Deadly" Doug Ellis is still there, but only in an honourary capacity. The new owner is American, Randy Lerner. Co-incidentally your old club has owners from across the pond too, something you might discuss in the boardroom with Steve Morgan, Wolves' owner. Six years ago the lifelong Liverpool fan attempted to buy the club. He was rebuffed. Most Liverpool fans probably regret that. Another Yank, Malcolm Glazer, had in 2004 just taken his stake in Manchester United to 18.5 per cent.
Wolves went down that season, with Leeds and Leicester. Arsenal's "Invincibles" were champions. Having gone all season unbeaten few then thought further titles would prove elusive. Liverpool were fourth and Manchester United and Chelsea made up the top four, so not that much has changed, notwithstanding Liverpool's recent slide. Southampton and Charlton were also in the top flight, they are now in the third tier. Back then your players only went to Blackpool to refuel, now you have a fixture there.
You had spent the season duelling with Arsène Wenger (who had just given a debut to a precocious 16-year-old called Francesc Fabregas), Alex Ferguson and Claudio Ranieri. The latter left these shores along with yourself, to be replaced by a promising coach called Jose Mourinho, fresh from winning the Champions League. But he's back in Iberia now, so you won't have the pleasure. As you crossed the Channel a striker called Didier Drogba came the other way. He's had quite an impact.
The clubs earn even more cash from television now, but as wages have also increased most clubs continue to lose money. As the chairman may have mentioned.
The big story of the year was the England team's threatened strike after Rio Ferdinand was suspended for missing a drug test. They relented, England qualified for Euro 2004, and when you left were heading for the tournament on a wave of optimism. They lost in the first knock-out round. France also failed. Plus ça change, eh Gérard?
Then and now
Champions: Arsenal. Liverpool: 4th
Aston Villa: 6th (under David O'Leary)
Record fees: Liverpool: £11m Emile Heskey. Villa: £9.5m Juan Pablo Angel
Champions: Chelsea. Liverpool: 7th. Aston Villa: 6th (under Martin O'Neill)
Record fees: Liverpool: £22m Fernando Torres. Aston Villa: £12m James Milner, Stewart Downing.
Houllier's Liverpool players in 2004 still in the Premier League: Carragher, Gerrard, Owen, Heskey, Murphy, Diouf, Diao, Kirkland.