PARIS • Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, who rebuilt the Reds from Premier League underachievers into a Cup treble-winning side in 2001, yesterday died aged 73.
French media outlets RMC sport and L’Equipe said Houllier, who also coached the French national team, Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and Aston Villa, died in Paris after a heart operation.
“We are mourning the passing of our treble-winning manager, Gerard Houllier,” Liverpool said on Twitter. “The thoughts of everyone at Liverpool Football Club are with Gerard’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, Gerard Houllier 1947-2020.”
Houllier had a history of heart problems, dating back to 2001 when he was rushed to hospital at half-time during a Premier League game between Liverpool and Leeds. His spell at Villa was also disrupted by his health. He did not return to the touchline after leaving by mutual consent in 2011 because of a heart problem.
According to The Daily Mail, Houllier reportedly sent a text message to his friends and family over the weekend, saying: “I am struggling but I am going to come out of this.”
Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen, whose two late goals won the 2001 FA Cup final against Arsenal with Houllier in charge, was among many leading figures in English football to pay tribute to the Frenchman.
He tweeted: “Absolutely heartbroken to hear that my old boss, Gerard Houllier, has sadly passed away. A great manager and a genuinely caring man. #RIPBoss”
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher added: “Absolutely devastated by the news about Gerard Houllier, I was in touch with him only last month to arrange him coming to Liverpool.
“Loved that man to bits, he changed me as a person and as a player and got Liverpool back winning trophies. RIP Boss.”
Phil Thompson, Houllier’s assistant at Liverpool who was caretaker coach while he was recovering from his ordeals, paid tribute to his mentor.
“My mate, my colleague, my boss,” he tweeted. “One of the greatest moments of my life was when we came together in 1998. Just to be in his company was an absolute treat. So loyal, so passionate and extremely fierce.”
French football is losing one of its greatest technicians, and the French federation one of its most loyal servants. Gerard Houllier has distinguished himself at all levels of football.
Gerard became a really good friend during his time at Liverpool. We remained great friends after he left and he was always a great ally to have… It is a sad day for the football world.
One of football’s smartest, warmest and loveliest people.
Steven Gerrard, who was made Liverpool captain by Houllier, wrote on Instagram: “Devastated to hear the news my former manager Gerard Houllier has passed away. I will never forget what this man did for me and my career. Rest in peace Boss. YNWA x”
After an insignificant playing career in France’s lower leagues, Houllier began coaching in 1973, earning his first big job with Lens before taking over at PSG.
He became France’s national team coach in 1992 but that spell was unsuccessful and notable for their failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup following shock home defeats by Israel and Bulgaria. He described the 2-1 loss to Bulgaria as “the most catastrophic scenario imaginable” when a draw would have been enough to qualify, only for a goal in added time to sink their hopes.
After the debacle, Houllier took some time away from top-level football to focus on youth coaching but he eventually rebuilt his reputation at Anfield.
He first joined the Reds by sharing manager duties with Roy Evans in 1998. He assumed full responsibility and led the team to a treble of the FA Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup in 2001.
Houllier, who left Anfield in 2004 after winning five major trophies, also had success in France with Lyon, leading them to back-to-back Ligue 1 titles.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS