The results that sank Houllier

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When Gerard Houllier took sole charge at Anfield, he was a man with a five-year plan to restore Liverpool to the pinnacle of English and European football. Today, the Reds went back to the drawing board.

When Gerard Houllier took sole charge at Anfield, he was a man with a five-year plan to restore Liverpool to the pinnacle of English and European football. Today, the Reds went back to the drawing board.

For Liverpool, second best - far less fourth best - has never been good enough, nor will it ever be.

It is an ethos engendered from a record 18 league titles and four European Cup triumphs.

And it is one with which Houllier was all too familiar too, having watched Bill Shankly's team from the Kop whilst teaching in the area in the 1960s.

Houllier's recovery from major heart surgery in October 2001 earned him respect throughout the football world.

There was, though, to be no such miracle cure for Liverpool's poor state of health on the pitch, and the title remained out of reach.

It seemed a positive move by the Anfield board to acquire the Frenchman's services in the summer of 1998, initially alongside Roy Evans as joint-manager.

After all, this was the man who, as technical director of the French Football Federation, had played a major part in his country's World Cup victory, then fresh in the memory.

The Anfield 'boot room' legacy was soon brought to an end when Evans departed to leave Houllier in sole charge; a sign that the club felt it was time to adopt the more modern coaching methods of the likes of Gerard Houllier.

Indeed Houllier's stewardship reaped rich reward in the 2000-01 season when the Frenchman brought the Worthington Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup to Anfield.

Thereon however, the road proved considerably more rocky.

The Champions League quarter-finals were reached in 2002 but that summer's expensive signings proved more hit than miss and progress stalled.

Last season's League Cup triumph, even though it came against bitter rivals Manchester United, was scant consolation for their Premiership failings.

Ultimately Houllier failed to prove he was made of the right stuff to maintain Liverpool's resurgence and turn them into genuine title contenders, something the fans craved more than anything else.

Results were indifferent, if not unacceptable, for a club of Liverpool's standing, and with the rise of Chelsea, they slipped outside the country's "big three".

Houllier steadfastly defended his policies, but time eventually caught up with him.

"We know where we are going, we just have a huge task to get there," he once said. "I am not put off by the size of the task."

Houllier took over Evans' squad, ripped it apart and started again. For most of his reign, he carried the fans with him.

But the more successful a club becomes, the more pressure is placed on the manager to maintain the challenge.

Liverpool fans expected the 2001 cup treble to serve as a precursor for things to come. Instead they had to be content just battling it out with the rest of the also-rans for the lesser prizes, in hope, rather than expectation, of it all coming together sooner or later.

Despite his failure at Anfield, Houllier - given an honorary OBE - will remain one of the most respected coaches in the game.

But it is results, not respect, by which any football manager will ultimately be judged.

Comments