Gerard Houllier's Best and Worst Signings as Liverpool Manager

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Gerard Houllier's Best and Worst Signings as Liverpool Manager

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    Exactly 15 years ago this week, Gerard Houllier took sole charge of Liverpool after Roy Evans ended his 33-year spell at Anfield and, in doing so, ended the short-lived joint managerial reign of the duo.

    Houllier went on to manage Liverpool for six years, replaced by Rafa Benitez in the summer of 2004.

    In the meantime, he lead Liverpool to an unprecedented domestic cup treble in 2001, guided the club to Champions League qualification and added another League Cup in 2003.

    As with all managers, the Frenchman had some hit-and-miss signings during his tenure.

    Houllier signed a host of excellent defensive-minded players, but his failings arrived when he attempted to add attacking talents. Essentially, he built some solid foundations but failed to put a roof on the house.

    We take a look at five of Houllier's best and worst signings as Liverpool manager.

Hit: Sami Hyypia

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    Not just good but probably Houllier's best signing as manager. Indeed, Sami Hyppia is arguably one of the shrewdest signings any Liverpool manager has ever made.

    Signed for £2.5 million in 1999, Hyypia went on to make 464 appearances for the club—winning every trophy possible except the Premier League. If that's not value for money, nothing is.

    Big Sami, the towering Finn, was a huge unknown quantity, lining up for his debut at Sheffield Wednesday alongside six fellow debutants after a summer that saw Houllier make eight additions to his squad.

    That summer was one of the most productive Liverpool have ever had.

    Hyypia, of course, went on to write himself into the Liverpool hall of fame, forming formidable partnerships in the heart of the Reds' defence alongside Stephane Henchoz and later Jamie Carragher.

Miss: Jean Michel Ferri

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    Who? Exactly.

    Ferri was, in fact, Houllier's first signing as manager, arriving from Istanbulspor for £1.5m in November 1998—back in the days before transfer windows existed.

    LFC History explain his Anfield career:

    The defensive midfielder was called "The Machine" because of his work-rate. 'Ferri Across the Mersey' the headlines read as he arrived injured as cover for Paul Ince in midfield. Ferri finally made his debut three months later in a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea replacing Ince early on in second half. His second substitute appearance came in the penultimate game of the season, another defeat, this time at Sheffield Wednesday. Ferri played roughly 50 minutes for Liverpool in eight months but left for a similar fee to second division Sochaux so no harm done.

Hit: Didi Hamann

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    Another signed during the summer of 1999, Hamann arrived from Newcastle for £8m.

    He quickly replaced Paul Ince in Liverpool's midfield and became a vital cog in the side for seven years, making almost 300 appearances.

    Like Hyypia, he won every trophy bar the title while at Liverpool.

    Memorable moments include scoring a penalty in Istanbul with a broken foot and this volley against Portsmouth at Anfield.

Miss: Christian Ziege

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    Signed to solve the ever-problematic left-back position, Ziege proved so lacking in work ethic that he was used mostly in midfield.

    The Reds paid £5.5m to Middlesbrough in 2000 for the German's services—a deal that saw Liverpool later fined £20,000 by the FA for an illegal approach.

    He was sold to Tottenham after just one season and quickly vanished from memory.

Hit: Gary McAllister

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    Talk about value for money: Gary McAllister was signed on a free transfer from Coventry in 2000.

    More than a few eyebrows were raised at the arrival of the then-35-year old, with the player himself being surprised at the move.

    "This is fairy tale stuff for someone at my stage of life,"  McAllister told BBC Sport.

    "It did surprise me when Liverpool came in for me, but I have talked through the specific role that Gerard Houllier wants me to have, and I am more than happy with it."

    A year later he was celebrating being a key part of the Liverpool squad that won three trophies in three months, with McAllister scoring several vital goals along the way.

    McAllister's exploits made him a firm cult hero, Liverpool fans loving "his Derby goal, his Barca pen, his Spurs penno, his Coventry goal, his Bradford goal, his Dortmund goal...his sweet right foot...his baldy 'ead."

Miss: Jari Litmanen

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    The signing of the cultured Finn from Barcelona in 2001 was not a bad signing—far from it. But Houllier's use of Jari Litmanen was a huge failing.

    Litmanen should have been an Anfield great but was criminally under-used by Houllier and departed the club after just 43 appearances—24 as a substitute.

    Admittedly, Liverpool had an embarrassment of riches up front with Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey all to choose from alongside Litmanen, but Houllier should have used the classy playmaker more.

    Most memorable moments include his goal in the Roma game on Houllier's return and a beautiful strike against Tottenham in the Premier League from 30 yards.

Hit: Markus Babbel

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    Another extremely shrewd signing, Babbel arrived on a Bosman transfer in 2000 after his contract at Bayern Munich expired—proving that Houllier and Liverpool could attract some of the biggest names in Europe.

    Babbel played an incredible 60 games during Liverpool's epic 2000/01 campaign; scoring in the Merseyside derby and the UEFA Cup Final against Alaves.

    Played at right-back, he formed a solid back line for success alongside Hyypia, Henchoz and Jamie Carragher at left-back. Nobody could break that back four easily.

    Sadly, Babbel's Anfield career was cut short after he was struck down with the paralysing Guillain-Barre syndrome early the following season. He showed extreme courage to return to action 15 months after being unable to walk but only made a handful of appearances.

Miss: El Hadji Diouf

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    No, the image above isn't wrong—that's intended as I couldn't bring myself to put in a picture of Diouf.

    Houllier turned down the opportunity to make Nicolas Anelka's loan spell permanent in 2002, instead opting to sign Diouf for £10m from Lens.

    Initial signs on Diouf were good, scoring twice on his debut against Southampton—unfortunately, his Liverpool career went one way from there, most infamously with the spitting incident at Celtic tarnishing not only his but also the club's name.

    It was the summer when Houllier's plans spiralled downward; having finished the previous campaign second in the Premier League, he signed Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou, and never recovered.

Hit: John Arne Riise

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    It's a shame that Riise's Liverpool career is often remembered for his final season and the own goal in the 2008 Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.

    The likeable Norwegian was signed from Monaco for £4m in 2001 and went on to make 348 appearances, scoring 31 goals—many of them memorable bullet strikes.

    His free-kick against Man United is the most noted one, but my personal favourite is the Charity Shield goal against Chelsea in 2006—imagine if Gareth Bale scored that.

    This screamer from 45 yards against Tottenham wasn't bad either.

Miss: Le Tallec and Pongolle

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    When Liverpool signed talented French cousins Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle from Le Havre for a combined fee of £3m in 2003, they were believed to have beaten off competition from a host of European clubs.

    The duo had just been named the best two players at the recent FIFA Under 17s World Cup and were, it seemed, heading for greatness—the next big French talents, the new Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.

    Alas, their development stalled and they spent more time out on loan or in the reserves than breaking into the first team.

Houllier's Best XI

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    It's only fair to end on a positive note for a man who played an integral part in modernising Liverpool FC.

    Here's a best XI of players Houllier signed for Liverpool:

    4-4-2: Westerveld; Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise; Barmby, Hamann, McAllister, Kewell; Litmanen, Anelka.

    Subs: Dudek, Finnan, Biscan, Heskey, Baros, Traore, Camara.


    * All transfer fees and stats from the LFC History website, where you can find a list of all Houllier's signings.