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.
In June 2000, Gerard Houllier splashed £3 million to bring eight times capped and World Cup-winning French left winger Bernard Diomede to Liverpool from Auxerre.
It was a signing that promised big things; Diomede had been relatively impressive in the 1998 World Cup, and although he had not played for France since the World Cup, he was coming off three excellent seasons back-to-back-to-back in Ligue One. Liverpool were in need of a left winger, and Diomede certainly fit the bill.
Diomede made his debut against Southampton and was the victim of a very poor decision as he had a perfectly good goal ruled out after his fantastic overhead kick clearly crossed the line only to ruled out by an inept linesman. If ever there has been a decision on which a player's career could have changed path, it was that one.
Had that goal gone in Diomede's confidence would have skyrocketed, and the fans would have taken to him. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and Diomede was dropped after only one more appearance and failed to regain his position as Liverpool marched to an unprecedented cup treble.
Diomede managed only five games for Liverpool in a two-and-a-half-year spell before leaving on loan for Ajaccio in January 2003 and leaving permanently in the summer of 2004 for Creteil on a free transfer.
The Next Vieira was what Houllier announced he had signed when he paid £4.5 million to bring Salif Diao to Liverpool in the summer of 2002 following his impressive performances at the World Cup that summer. Now to give Houllier his due, he may have been referring to Alice Vieira the legendary Portuguese author, because he simply can't have been talking about Patrick Vieira.
Prior to that World Cup, Diao had been an average defensive midfielder plying his trade in the French League and was on nobody's list of "ones to watch." After the World Cup, he was on Houllier's list of "ones to buy." It was a signing that made no sense though; Liverpool already had a world class defensive midfielder in Didi Hamann, and that £4.5million would have been better spent in other positions.
Once Diao made his Liverpool debut, it was painfully obvious that Diao was well out of his depth. Obvious to everyone bar Houllier that is. Gerard decided that not only could Diao do a job in midfield; the man was so talented that he could also play right-back and centre-back whenever needed.
To be fair to Diao, he tried hard and actually did OK at centre-back in a couple of games, but it was simply embarrassing watching him at fullback. The man had the turning circle of a stretch limo and all the speed of a three-legged turtle.
Wingers galore waltzed passed him, some actually smiling and laughing at the ease at which they did so. In all honesty, it didn't matter where he was played, he was far from good enough to play for such a club.
Somehow Diao managed to stay on Liverpool's books for five-and-a-half years, although he did spend over two of them on loan at Birmingham, Portsmouth and Stoke. He left Liverpool for Stoke in December of 2007 on a free transfer bringing to an end the Liverpool career of one it's worst ever players and one of Houllier's worst signings.
Chris Kirkland may actually the most bizarre signing Gerard Houllier ever made simply because he was signed only days after Liverpool had spent big money to bring Polish international keeper Jerzy Dudek to the club.
Dudek was rated as one of the top goalkeepers in Europe at the time, and Liverpool had beaten a host of clubs to secure his signing. Dudek would go on to have a fantastic debut season for Liverpool where he was easily the best goalkeeper in the league. Kirkland meanwhile became a £7 million benchwarmer looking at a long future of sitting on the bench.
At the time, Liverpool were crying out for a winger, and that £7 million would have bought them a very good one. Instead, they ended up with a goalkeeper they didn't need. Perhaps, Houllier thought he might be allowed to play two goalkeepers, thus making it even harder for the opposition to score. He was clearly told he wasn't allowed to do so, and with Dudek clearly the better keeper at the time, Kirkland became his understudy.
He managed only one appearance in his debut season for the club, and things didn't exactly pick up from there. He could never secure the starting spot from Dudek on a permanent basis, and whenever he was given a chance, he either failed to seize it or got injured.
His biggest opportunity came in his second season when two big errors from Dudek lost Liverpool a huge game against rivals Manchester United. Dudek was dropped and Kirkland took his place. Kirkland managed 14 games in a row, keeping six clean sheets. Unfortunately, Kirkland suffered one of the countless injuries that have plagued his career, and Dudek returned and kept his place even when Kirkland returned.
By the time Rafa Benitez decided, in 2005, that Kirkland wasn't in the plans, he had fallen to fourth in the depth chart after new signing Pepe Reina, Dudek and youngster Scott Carson. Kirkland was sent on loan to West Bromwich Albion who seemed to become a landing spot for Liverpool goalkeepers as Scott Carson would follow him there three years later.
At West Brom things seemed to pick up for Kirkland as he finally earned a call up to the England squad and seemed to coming on greatly and finally becoming the goalkeeper Gerard Houllier thought he could be. Until once again, his injury curse struck, and he lost his place to Tomas Kuszczak and was unable to get it back.
Kirkland stock seemed to fall pretty sharply, and he was even send on a bizarre loan from his loan as Yeovil took him as an emergency signing after losing all their registered goalkeepers to injury.
Kirkland returned to Liverpool following the season but was not wanted by the club and sent on loan again, this time to Wigan. After only two months of this loan, Wigan decided to make the move a permanent one, and Liverpool managed to recoup half of the fee they initially paid for Kirkland.
I should point out that Kirkland is not on this list because he wasn't good enough to play for Liverpool. On the contrary, had Kirkland not been born with a body made predominantly from glass and matchsticks, I think he would have become a great goalkeeper and would be the current England No. 1. Kirkland is on this list because his signing made no sense and was a waste of money following the signing of the superior Jerzy Dudek.
In one of his final acts as Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier agreed a club record £14 million fee to sign Djibril Cisse from Auxerre after a year-long pursuit during which he had almost signed him twice. Cisse was one of the hottest properties in Europe, and his capture was seen as a major coup for Liverpool as they beat off competition from a number of top European clubs to secure his signing.
Cisse had an impressive scoring record at Auxerre and blistering pace. Liverpool fans were excited at the prospect of his partnership with Michael Owen, a partnership that never came to be as Owen left only two months later.
As for Cisse, he simply never lived up to the pricetag. His lack of a first touch and anything resembling finesse meant that he simply couldn't replicate his Ligue One form against the better quality defences of the Premier League.
While it's impossible to completely rubbish Cisse's time as a Liverpool player and dismiss him as a complete waste of money due to his role in the Champions League success (including a great penalty in the final shoot-out), the fact that his career was severely hampered by a horrific broken leg and the fact is that he simply didn't have what it took to become the type of player Liverpool expected as a return for their investment.
After only two seasons at the club, he was loaned to Marseille and completed a permanent move to the same club the following summer at a loss of £8 million to Liverpool.
If Cisse was his leaving present to the club, then perhaps Houllier did have the last laugh.
"You're going to love the boy from Senegal I've just signed," Gerard Houllier was overheard telling anyone that would listen prior to Diouf's unveiling as a Liverpool player.
Diouf had performed fantastically in the 2002 World Cup and was one of the stars of the tournament with his personal highlight being the roasting he gave the French back four in the tournaments opening game as Senegal shocked the reigning champions with a stunning 1-0 upset victory. Diouf had gone into the tournament as a bit of an enigma.
During his time at Lens, and prior to that at Sochaux and Rennes, he had displayed the ability to be an absolute world beater but not the ability to do it on a consistent basis. There was also question marks over his attitude and personality. He was seen as hot-headed, childish and more interested in partying than working hard.
After the tournament, all the questions were forgotten about, and Houllier snapped him up for £10 million. While Liverpool fans believed Diouf could be a good signing for the club, the fact that he was signed instead of Nicholas Anelka, who had spent the previous six months on loan at Liverpool, made the signing a very unpopular one, and they did warm to the player.
Doomed from the beginning, Diouf's time at Liverpool was nothing short of a disaster. He played 79 games and managed a meager six goals, and while he did show flashes of brilliance, especially during a run of games where he secured the right wing role, he simply couldn't stay out of trouble.
The most memorable moment of his Liverpool career was when he spat in the face of a Celtic fan who he believed had made a racist comment towards him. While I would have had no problem had he punched someone for making a racist comment, spitting is simply disgusting and below a club like Liverpool.
Rafa Benitez was never likely to put up with a player capable of such an act and immediately put him up for loan. Diouf joined Bolton and in fairness to him, had a fantastic season. The move to Bolton was made permanent immediately following the season although there were calls from the Liverpool faithful for Diouf to be given another chance following his impressive displays for Bolton. Benitez, however, was having none of it and Diouf was sold at a big loss.
Based on his transfer fee, his goal return, his shameful actions and the loss that was made on him, I hereby deem El-Hadji Diouf as the worst signing made by Gerard Houllier.
Houllier made plenty of terrible signings, and I feel it's necessary to make a few honourable mentions on top of the five players I have laid out already.
Nick Barmby, Christian Ziege, Igor Biscan, Harry Kewell, Bruno Cheyrou, Titi Camarra, Rigobert Song, Jean Micheal Ferri, Daniel Sjolund, Abel Xavier, Frode Kippe and Djimi Traore were all signed by Gerard Houllier and would have been worthy of the top five worst signings of his era.
Of course, it wasn't just bad signings that made Houllier's transfer record at Liverpool a poor one. There was also some questionable sales, and one in particular ranks as my least favourite move made by Houllier (and possibly by any manager during my time supporting the club), a move that in my opinion was the beginning of the end for him.
The sale of Robbie Fowler to Leeds. Nobody sells God. Nobody.
So there you have it, my list of the five worst transfers made by Gerard Houllier during his spell as Liverpool manager, and I can honestly say it was very difficult to pick a couple of them because there were so many possible candidates.
Next time, I will be counting down the five worst signings made by his successor, Rafa Benitez.
Thanks for reading. Hope you've enjoyed.