Gérard Houllier, OBE born 3 September 1947, in Thérouanne, Pas-de-Calais, France), is a French football manager, currently managing Premier League club Aston Villa.
His past clubs include Paris Saint-Germain, RC Lens and Liverpool, with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 2001. He then guided Olympique Lyonnais to two French titles, before announcing his resignation on 25 May 2007. He also coached the French national team between 1992 and 1993.
He assisted Aimé Jacquet in the 1998 World Cup, was part of UEFA's and FIFA's Technical Committee in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals, and Technical Director for the French Football Federation during the 2010 finals.
Houllier entered Lille University to pursue a degree in English, but in the first year his father's serious illness forced him to drop out of full-time study and start work, eventually as a school teacher, while he completed his degree part-time. As part of his degree, he elected to spend a year in 1969–1970 in Liverpool as an Assistant at Alsop Comprehensive School, and while there he attended his first Liverpool F.C. match on 16 September 1969 — a 10–0 thrashing of the Irish team, Dundalk. He also played for an amateur local side, Alsop.
He was a natural football player though at the time French football was a mixture of amateur and professional players. He was deputy headmaster of the École Normale d'Arras until at the age of 26 in 1973 he began his full-time managerial career as player-manager of Le Touquet.
Houllier later moved to Arras as youth coach, and Nœux-les-Mines as head coach where he won two consecutive promotions into the second division before moving to Lens in 1982. He took Lens to promotion and qualification for the UEFA Cup before moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 1985, and PSG won the French title the following year.
In 1988, Houllier was appointed technical director and assistant to the French national team, under manager Michel Platini. He became manager in 1992, but resigned in 1993 after France failed to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Houllier blamed the failure on winger David Ginola's failure to complete a pass to Eric Cantona to score. Ginola subsequently threatened legal action for Houllier's comments. He remained with the team as a technical director, however. In 1998 France won the World Cup, and Houllier was recognized for contributions to the game.
He was the technical director for the French football federation during France's South African World Cup fiasco – criticising coach Raymond Domenech for his isolated method of management. Houllier did not call for Escalette to resign, actually stating the head of the Federation should remain.
In July 1998, Houllier was invited to become joint team manager of Liverpool Football Club, together with Roy Evans. The arrangement did not work out and Roy Evans resigned in November after losing to Tottenham Hotspur 3–1 at home in the League Cup. Prior to that defeat Liverpool were knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Spanish side Celta Vigo. The departure of Evans left Houllier in sole charge of the team.
Houllier began what he described as a five-year program to rebuild the team, starting in 1999. That summer, Paul Ince, David James, Jason McAteer, Rob Jones, Tony Warner and Steve Harkness were all sold, while Steve McManaman left on a free. At the same time eight new players, Sami Hyypiä, Dietmar Hamann, Stéphane Henchoz, Vladimír Šmicer, Sander Westerveld, Titi Camara, Eric Meijer and Djimi Traoréwere all signed. Also, Liverpool's training facilities at Melwood were thoroughly overhauled.
The rebuilding continued in 2000, with the signings of Markus Babbel, Nicky Barmby, Pegguy Arphexad, Grégory Vignal, Emile Heskey, Gary McAllister, Igor Bišćan and Christian Ziege, as well as the departures of David Thompson, Phil Babb, Dominic Matteo, Steve Staunton, Brad Friedel and Stig Inge Bjørnebye
The efforts yielded a result in the successful 2000–01 season, when Liverpool won a cup treble of the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup and finished third in the Premier League. Liverpool went on to win the FA Community Shield against Manchester United and UEFA Super Cup against Bayern Munich.
In October 2001, after falling ill at half time in the Liverpool's Premier League match with Leeds United, Houllier was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation due to the discovery of a heart condition. With the help of caretaker manager Phil Thompson he guided Liverpool to the second-place finish in the league, their best record in the Premiership. Houllier returned to active management of the club after five months. An example of his fallibility came when Houllier substituted the defensive midfielder Dietmar Hamann with winger Vladimír Šmicer in an away match against Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final. The scoreline was 1–1 with Bayer needing two goals to win. With a gap in the defense, however, Liverpool was exposed to endless attacks, and Liverpool failed to advance to the semi-final.
In the 2002–2003 Liverpool finished in the fifth place in the Premiership, failing to qualify for the Champions League next season. Critics blamed Houllier's unsuccessful summer signings in 2002, namely El Hadji Diouf (Lens, £10 million), Salif Diao (Sedan, £5 million) and Bruno Cheyrou (Lille, £4 million), and his failure to make Nicolas Anelka's loan move permanent in favour of signing the ineffective Diouf. Houllier's failure to replace creative talents such as Gary McAllister and Jari Litmanen was also criticized.
A lack of success in the following seasons when Liverpool struggled to qualify for the Champions League despite substantial investment in players, with what was perceived as negative one-dimensional tactics and unattractive football, a poor youth policy, his constant mention of "turning corners" and a lack of support from fans led to Houllier's departure from Liverpool on 24 May 2004. During a press conference leading up to his departure Houllier said, 'If they want to go back to the '70s & '80s they can do that but not with me' shortly after Houllier left the press conference. He left by mutual consent with the club and was swiftly replaced by Valencia coach Rafael Benítez.
Much of Houllier's youth policy was based on bringing in what he regarded as the best that France had to offer. Since he was head of technical development at the French football association, before he joined Liverpool, he was familiar with young football talents in France.
Houllier's last purchase was Djibril Cissé, who arrived, after Houllier departed, for £14 million. He was out for most of the first season with a broken leg. In the 2005–06 season, however, Cissé became the second highest goalscorer at Liverpool with 19 in all competitions, 6 in Champions League qualifiers, 2 in the European Super Cup, and 9 in the Premiership, and scored Liverpool's first goal in their FA Cup victory in May 2006. After an alleged bust-up with manager Rafael Benítez, Cissé was loaned to Olympique Marseille for the 2006–07 season. On 30 August 2006, Florent Sinama-Pongolle left Liverpool for a season loan with Recreativo de Huelva, the last of the French players signed by Houllier to leave Merseyside
On 29 May 2005, it was announced that Houllier had signed a two-year contract as manager of the champions of Ligue 1, succeeding Paul Le Guen. Lyon had just won their previous fourth successive championship and Houllier was hired to convert this domestic dominance to the European stage. Despite continuing this dominance of the Ligue 1, Lyon lost to AC Milan in the quarter-finals of the 2005–06 competition while they crashed out to the inexperienced Roma in the first knockout round of the 2006–07 season . Houllier also suffered a cup final defeat (Coupe de la Ligue) to Bordeaux. In April 2007 however, Houllier won his 2nd successive (Lyon's sixth consecutive) Ligue 1 title after Toulouse's loss to Rennes.
The 2006/07 season proved to be his last with the club. On 25 May 2007, Houllier stepped down as boss of Olympique Lyonnais, due to a fractious relationship with outspoken chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, who was frustrated at the club's inability to convert domestic dominance into European success. An official statement on Lyon's website stated that Houllier asked to be released from the last season of his contract and that request was granted by the president. Houllier also said that that he needed a break after experiencing two seasons with Lyon.
On September 8, 2010, it was announced that English club Aston Villa had appointed Houllier as their new full-time manager, following the resignation of previous boss Martin O'Neill the month before.
In his first press conference at the club it was revealed that he hadn't signed a contract yet and wouldn't be able to take charge until a later date, because of commitments with the French FA.
On September 15, it was revealed that Houllier's first match in-charge would be the League Cup match against Blackburn Rovers on September 22. Villa won the match 3–1, coming back from a goal down to progress to the next round of the competition. It was announced on September 18 2010 that Gary McAllister had agreed to become his assistant manager, with Gordon Cowans also taking a role in Houllier's backroom staff. In Houllier's first match in-charge of Aston Villa, they won 3–1 against Blackburn Rovers. Two days after the match he signed a 3 year contract. However, Houllier's start at the club proved to be a difficult one. The side was hit with a number of injuries to key players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and Emile Heskey, and managed just one win in ten Premier League games. In November 2010, Houllier signed 37-year-old former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pirès on a free transfer in an attempt to aid the club during its injury crisis.
By January 2011, Villa had picked up just 21 points from 20 Premier League games. They had also been knocked out of the Football League Cup the previous month by local rivals Birmingham City. On January 5, Villa were beaten 1–0 at home by Sunderland. This loss left Villa in 18th position in the league table, the first time they had been in the relegation zone since 2002. During the match, a selection of the home crowd targeted Houllier with chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning" to vent their frustration at the club's poor run of form. Despite this, Villa directors acted quickly to insist that Houllier's job as manager is safe.
In the January transfer Window, Houllier signed Kyle Walker on loan from Tottenham Hotspur in a bid to improve Villa's struggling defence. This signing was followed by the arrival of Jean Makoun from Houllier's former club Lyon, before Sunderland's Darren Bent was brought to Villa Park in a deal that broke the club's previous transfer record.