Despite encountering many health problems during his career, his passing has come as a shock to most of the footballing fraternity and well wishes have been flooding in. One of the most eloquent students of the game, Gerard Houllier broke the mould somewhat by beginning his career in education before turning to football in later life. He will always be remembered fondly by Liverpool fans in particular, as under his stewardship the reds lifted 6 trophies–including an unprecedented treble in the 2000/01 season.
Houllier was born in 1947 in suburban France and despite being an accomplished footballer at youth level, never managed to attract the attention of any of the biggest clubs in the country. A ball-playing midfielder, Houllier was always considered to be ‘old for his age’ and his ability to read the game was marked. He chose to go down the education route in life and after graduating from Lille University, he became a teacher, being appointed Deputy Head at the age of just 26.
With a burning passion to become involved in the upper echelons of football, Houllier became the manager of 5th tier Nœux-les-Mines and went on to revolutionise the club. In 6 years at Nœux-les-Mines, he oversaw their progression to the French Second Division and his footballing stock was as strong as ever.
His success with Nœux-les-Mines didn’t go unnoticed and he earned a move to Lens in 1982 as their head coach. Once again, Lens enjoyed success with Houllier at the helm and by 1985 he had been snared by Paris Saint Germain. In his first season at the club, he lifted the French Division 1 title and despite not managing to win any more trophies, he left the club in 1988 to become part of the French National Team set up.
At France, he endured a tough reign, epitomised by Les Blues’ failure to reach the 1994 World Cup, a sequence of results that ultimately cost Houllier his job with the national team. Those in the know in French football however were all too aware of Houllier’s influence and qualities and he was responsible for the development of the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry–who went on to win the World Cup in 1998.
In 1998, Liverpool were a club in limbo in English football and the appointment of Gerard Houllier would prove to be a masterstroke. Whilst the Premier League title remained elusive for Houllier during his spell on Merseyside, he integrated the likes of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard into his side as Liverpool dawned on a new era.
The culmination of Houllier’s work was during the 2000/01 season, where they won 5 trophies (FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup & Charity Shield) in one of the club’s greatest campaigns. He went on to help the reds lift the League Cup once more in 2003 but he left the club at the end of the 2004 season.
He went on to have further success with Lyon (winning the league in back to back seasons) before finishing his career at Aston Villa in 2011. Houllier will always be remembered as one of the greatest managers to grace European Football and his legacy continues to live on within the French game.