Liverpool FC: The 5 Worst Transfers of the Gerard Houllier Era

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Liverpool FC: The 5 Worst Transfers of the Gerard Houllier Era
Stu Forster/Getty Images

The story of how Gerard Houllier came to power at Liverpool is perhaps the strangest of any manager in the history of the club.

Prior to his arrival in England, he had some success at Paris St.Germain in the mid-80s before joining the French national team setup as assistant manager under Michael Platini, as well as serving as a technical director to the national team.

Following Platini's resignation in 1992, Houllier undertook an ill-fated term as manager of the team which was most notable for their spectacular failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Houllier was removed as national team manager and served in the same technical director role he had previously held and made a notable contribution to France's triumph on home soil in the 1998 World Cup.

Shortly afterwards, he agreed to become assistant manager at Liverpool, serving under Roy Evans. In what should have served as a warning to the Liverpool faithful, Houllier somehow talked his way into a "joint-manager" position which the Liverpool board bizarely agreed to despite the fact that Houllier had not managed a club team in a decade, and his only managerial position in that time had been a huge failure.

Houllier then hijacked the manager's position for himself by forcing Roy Evans out of the club by using his growing influence on Rick Parry and the group of sheep that made up the Liverpool board at the time to undermine every decision of Evans' and make his position unteniable.

Obviously, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and at the time, Liverpool fans accepted this changing of the managerial guard without much question as Houllier's personality won over the fans as it had the board.

Houllier announced a five-year plan and set about remodeling the club in his image, out went the Liverpool way as Houllier brought a European feel to the core of the club, and with the exception of the appointment as assistant manager, of Phil Thompson, he also brought a European flavour to the coaching staff appointing people he knew from his time in France.

Liverpool moved away from the type of football which, other than the Souness era, had been the trademark of the club since the mid-60s. Houllier's team was built on a solid defense and the ability to counterattack.

Key to his plans was the finishing ability of Robbie Fowler. Houllier reasoned that Liverpool only needed to create two or three chances a game for Fowler, and that would be enough for GOD to grab a goal.

He also banked on his newly reshaped defense being able to keep clean sheets galore. The tactics were reminiscent of George Graham's boring boring Arsenal, and they may have worked had Fowler not been cursed by injuries.

Houllier made some fantastic signings during his time at Liverpool, and those should not ignored despite the fact that they are outnumbered by the bad signings. Sami Hyypia and Dietmar Hamann are probably the most beloved players signed by Houllier.

Both are Anfield legends, and both would go on to play a massive role in the 2005 Champions League success. In fact, many would argue that the team that won the Champions League was Houllier's team. I would be one of them truth be told.

There's simply no getting away from the fact that 13 of the 18-man squad that represented Liverpool in that final, were bought or moulded by Houllier. There's also the fact that the man who made the biggest but least remembered contribution during the entire Champions League campaign but missed the final was a Houllier signee.

I'm talking of course about Florent Sinama-Pongolle and his game-changing substitutes performance against Olympiakos. While the world and its mother rushed to fawn over Steven Gerrard for his last-minute heroics, it was Sinama-Pongolle who put Liverpool in a position to win the game, scoring one and making one after coming on at half time.

Other Houllier signings that should be mentioned are Gary McAllister, Markus Babbel, Vladi Smicer, Stephane Henchoz, Sander Westerveld, Steve Finnan, Jerzy Dudek, Milan Baros and Emile Heskey.

All of those men played played massive roles in bringing major success to Liverpool, and while certain ones like Heskey are vilified for never scoring enough goals, it's questionable whether we would have won the 2001 cup treble without him.

Jari Litmanen was a personal favourite of mine, and I was delighted when he was signed, although unfortunately for Liverpool, we got him five years after we should have.

Unfortunately, that 2001 cup treble was something Liverpool failed to properly build on with Houllier in charge. Before you say it, no I have not forgetten about the second-place finish in 2002, but I would argue that the form Liverpool displayed for most of the season was done to Houllier's absence from the dugout.

In October of 2001 Houllier fell ill during a home game against Leeds and was rushed to the hospital where he underwent heart surgery which sidelined him for five months. During his time away, Phil Thompson took the reigns, and Liverpool went on a fantastic run both domestically and in Europe.

Indeed, when Houllier returned on that famous night at home to Roma, Liverpool were in position to challenge for an incredible Premier and Champions League double as they sat in second place in the league only a few points behind leaders Arsenal and primed to make a run at them should Arsenal slip up.

Unfortunately, although Liverpool's league form continued to be excellent, Houllier seemed different and began making unusual statements in the media and unusual decisions during games. This was never more evident than when he bizarrely took off Didi Hamann to replace him with Vladi Smicer as Liverpool through away a comfortable lead and crashed out of the Champions League in the quarterfinal.

It was all down hill after that for Houllier. He made bizarre team selections, bizarre tactical moves, poor transfer and announced that Liverpool had "turned the corner" so many times over the next two seasons that we were all practically spinning in circles.

Every post-match interview became a repeat of the one before. Every win was the turning of a corner, everything loss was a "blessing in disguise." He had become a parody of himself on and off the field. 

Houllier was sacked as Liverpool manager in 2004 after a very disappointing season. It was a sad end for a man who had brought so much joy to the fans, but it was an inevitable one. Houllier had never been the greatest manager, but had, initially, had a good eye for talent and was also blessed by a youth setup that presented him with Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler.

His personality had kept the fans on his side for a long time and the 2000/01 season made fans forget how disappointing his previous seasons had been. Ultimately, Houllier will go down as a failure because he spent huge amounts of money, spent six years failing to bring a five-year plan to fruition and never brought the title to Liverpool.

However, we must thank him for the treble, his building of the team that would, with a couple of additions, win us the Champions League, and we must also remember him as a man we loved even when we fell out of love with him as a manager.

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