MERCI BEAUCOUP: Former Liverpool FC manager Gerard Houllier who died this week aged 73. AFP/VNA Photo
Love them or hate them, there’s no getting away from the fact that right now, Liverpool FC are one of the best football teams in Europe.
Premier League champions, currently level on points at the top of the league (although that may change after the match with Tottenham overnight) and through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
Many could argue this is down to the current manager, Jurgen Klopp, who since arriving at Liverpool has led them to two Champions League finals, winning one, finished second in the Premier League then first the following season as well as with winning the World Club Cup and European Super Cup.
On the other hand, maybe the success is down to the solid management structure of Fenway Sports Group who own Liverpool FC and have invested wisely both on, and off, the pitch.
But you’d be wrong on both counts.
The real revolution of Liverpool Football Club began in July of 1998 when the club took the very unusual step of appointing its first-ever foreign manager.
To begin with, Gerard Houllier was joint boss with Anfield stalwart Roy Evans but that arrangement was short-lived, and soon the French man took sole control of Liverpool.
What followed was nothing short of a complete rebuild from top to bottom. Houllier changed everything and boy did it work.
The training ground was modified, players were told what to eat, what not to drink, sports science became part and parcel of Liverpool’s mindset, and soon the rewards began to be reaped.
Liverpool went on to win a historic cup treble in 2001 and once again became a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
Since his death at the age of 73 earlier this week, many of Liverpool’s former stars have heaped praise on Houllier for all the good he did for them during his reign at the club.
Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Danny Murphy and Jamie Redknapp all spoke in glowing terms about the impact their former boss had on their careers.
And don’t forget, this is the manager who plucked a young kid from the youth team who was playing right-back and gave him a shot in the first team. That kid? Steven Gerrard.
Houllier’s love affair with Liverpool FC began many years before he became an employee. As a young man, he worked as a teacher in a secondary school pretty close to Anfield. Back then, he would regularly watch Liverpool play, never in his wildest dreams imagining he would one day be the manager.
I was fortunate enough to have been working for the Liverpool Echo, an evening daily newspaper in the city, back in the day when Houllier reigned supreme. It was a wild ride.
I travelled to Spain, Portugal and Rome watching Liverpool and was in Dortmund on the night they lifted what was then the UEFA Cup.
The team itself wasn’t really the best, but Liverpool did tend to beat better teams. This was down to the organisation, discipline and tactical nous of their manager.
In a recent interview, humble as always, he insisted he didn't start a revolution but instead began the process of evolution at Liverpool Football Club.
I met him, briefly, and he reminded me of that one teacher in school that was actually okay. The type you could have a laugh with but at the same time knew when not to cross the line.
Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish are rightly credited with the immense success Liverpool enjoyed in the past.
But really it’s Gerard Houllier who should receive all the accolades for their success now and in the future. — VNS