RIP Gerard Houllier: Ex-Liverpool boss dies aged 73
Liverpool legend Phil Thompson believes Reds supporters must now realise the impact Gerard Houllier had on their club. Three-time European Cup winner Thompson was Houllier’s assistant at Liverpool for his six years in charge at Anfield between 1998 and 2004.
Houllier sadly passed away earlier this week at the age of 73.
Tributes have flooded in from across the globe for the Frenchman, who also managed France, PSG, Lyon and Aston Villa, among other teams.
But it was his time at Liverpool where he will be most fondly remembered.
However, despite winning five major trophies in 2001, Thompson says some Liverpool fans do not realise how important he was to the club because Rafa Benitez won the Champions League a year after his departure.
“Some Liverpool fans I just don’t think could take to him,” Thompson told Express Sport.
“Because it had gone wrong at the end in 2004 for us and then Rafa won the Champions League in 2005. Everybody was ‘Rafa was the King’ but Houllier had been wonderful with what he did.
“Most people do [give Houllier enough credit], probably 90 per cent of Liverpool fans.
“I do numerous talks and a lot of them give no time for Gerard, which I found fascinating.
“He gave them their first European trophy in 17 years. That treble-winning year, five trophies in six months was just astonishing.”
Houllier led Liverpool to League Cup glory in February 2001, which was the start of a glittering year for the Reds.
It was followed by FA Cup and UEFA Cup triumph, before Charity Shield and UEFA Super Cup success at the start of the following season.
Thompson says Houllier was crucial in getting his players prepared for matches every few days, with a much smaller squad than the current Liverpool side.
“I know everybody’s saying they play twice a week now but we didn’t have the squad that they have now,” Thompson continued.
“It was just incredible his appetite for every game. Preparation and recovery, preparation and recovery, every time. We needed his expertise to get us through all that. This was new for a lot of these boys. It was a fantastic rollercoaster.
“From the turn of the year we started playing the semi-finals of the League Cup.
“It was just absolutely astonishing, preparing for all the games, the UEFA games which came thick and fast. It was great and it was so enjoyable.”
And it was the UEFA Cup victory, a dramatic 5-4 golden goal win over Spanish side Alaves in Dortmund, which Thompson thinks Liverpool fans should be “eternally grateful” to Houllier for.
It was the club’s first European trophy since 1984 and gave younger supporters a first taste of the success their older family members will have witnessed.
Thompson said: “There had been an era of Liverpool fans that had only heard of the stories from their dads and their grandads about travelling to Europe and European cup finals and how great it was – it must have eaten away at them.
“So to give them the chance of going to Dortmund, we had like 90 per cent of the fan base in there and it was a wonderful night, a wonderful game of football.
“All Liverpool fans, I think, for that should have been eternally grateful forever to Gerard Houllier because it took a long time to get a European trophy.
“Rafa was, as the boys say, possibly a better coach, but as a man-manager, Houllier outstripped him by miles.”
Thompson says Houllier had a love for Liverpool even before he became manager and that helped him achieve the success he had at the club.
He said: “Liverpool was his team because going back to when he came to Liverpool many, many years ago as a school teacher, he came to Alsop Comprehensive School which was only a mile from Anfield.
“When we first came together and we were chatting, he said: ‘When I was at school I used to go to the match with the other teachers and I used to stand on the Kop, Phil, and I’d watch you of a Saturday afternoon or a Wednesday night in a European game and I would watch you playing’.
“So he was like a student of the game but knew the history. He had that already built in feeling for Liverpool Football Club before he became manager.”
Thompson sees similarities between Houllier and current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, which he thinks makes them two of the best managers the club have had.
He concluded: “I always think the best managers are the ones who get the people. Everybody knows our history and what’s gone on, but if you can get the people and you can understand the people and they can understand you, you have more chances of success.
“I think when the people, the club and the players come together, as we’ve seen with Klopp, it’s unbeatable. Houllier had all that, he had all those characteristics.”
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