Rest In Peace, Monsieur Houllier

It’s a funny old thing, writing a blog. I do this once a week, so usually have to think about what I’m going to write in order to get my timing right. I don’t want to be publishing a piece on a Monday about Liverpool’s fixtures if we’ve got a game on Tuesday night, for example. This week I was considering waiting until after the match against Tottenham Hotspur in order to talk about both that game and our one against Fulham as a package. I also thought that maybe I’d write one today, reacting to the Champions League draw. Of all the things that I’d ummed and ahhed about, writing something about Gérard Houllier never entered my head. In many ways, I wish I didn’t have to. I felt the news of the Frenchman’s death like a gut punch, such is the extent to which he was my Liverpool manager. As a thirty-eight-year-old, I grew up watching his side.

Rafa Benitez might have been the one to put us back on the biggest stage of all, but I got my footballing education, appropriately enough, courtesy of the former teacher. In many ways, Houllier saw dreams come true. He had stood on the Kop and watched Liverpool when he was a teacher in the city. He very much got the club from the off, but he also understood football and the manner in which the club needed to be brought up-to-date. There was plenty to say about the appointment of Roy Evans as manager, including the fact that he probably should’ve been given the role when Graeme Souness was appointed. He was a man of his time, however, and the need to modernise the club was one that was probably beyond his capability. Houllier knew what was needed and how to do, laying the foundation for the Reds to become the club they are today.

He Laid The Foundations

Bringing Gérard Houllier in as a joint-manager with Roy Evans was a decision that never should have been made. Those in charge of the club at the time probably didn’t have the heart to sack Evans after everything he’d done, but the idea of co-managers was never one that was going to work. A clean break would’ve been best for both people, but once Houllier took sole charge of the club he was able to begin to implement his own ideas and thoughts. It was the first time I can actively remember the idea of someone trying to implement a ‘five-year programme’ at a football club, which is something that most managers talk about nowadays. He had a specific sense of what needed to happen at Liverpool to drag the club into the twentieth century, including removing a vast swathe of the players who had been around for too long and were bad influences.

He was also the man who modernised Melwood, turning it into a modern-day training centre rather than clinging on to the olden days of the boot room. He broke up the cliques in the dressing room, bringing in some fresh blood and doing what needed to be done to make us competitive again. Football is always evolving, so I’m quite sure that we’d have ended up where are now at some point no matter what. Yet there’s no denying that Houllier was the man who laid the foundations for what Liverpool Football Club has become. You can trace a direct line from the Frenchman’s time at the club through to Jürgen Klopp’s, with the former teacher bringing us into the modern era quicker than we would have done if he’d never been appointed. He was the definition of a forward-thinking manager and would almost certainly have won us a title if not for Manchester United’s dominance.

He Made Us Relevant Again

It’s easy to forget now, but Liverpool had almost fall off the map in the 1990s. The title that came at the start of the decade was thought of more as being the end of the 1980s, whilst the FA Cup in 1992 was dismissed because of Graeme Souness’s otherwise miserable reign. There’s a reason why the thrilling matches against Newcastle United are remembered so fondly, which is that there was very little else for Liverpool supporters to get excited about during the era. Instead, we had to watch Manchester United become the biggest and most successful club in the country, whilst we struggled to lay a glove on them. Even beating them seemed to be a struggle. Houllier’s brand of football might not have been the sexiest that we’ve ever watched, but it was successful. Decisions to bring in the likes of Gary McCallister might have seemed odd, but proved to be inspired.

Personally, the 2000-2001 season will forever be my favourite as a Liverpool fan. We’ve won the European Cup and the League since then, but that was the season that I came of age as a supporter. I remember where I was for each of the finals. I know how I felt watching Michael Owen slot the ball past Arsenal. I still feel slightly confused about the Golden Goal in the match against Alavés to hand us the UEFA Cup. Gérard Houllier gave me those moments and I’ll never forget them. It was the right time for him to leave the club in the end and in Rafa Benitez we could a manager who could pick up where he left off, but we might not have even been able to entice the La Liga winner if Houllier hadn’t put the club back on the map again. The modern version of Liverpool Football Club has always revered its managers, but for those of us of a certain age, today’s loss feels even more poignant.

Rest In Peace, Monsieur.

One Response
  1. December 22, 2020

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