Liverpool legends including Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard, Phil Thompson and Jamie Carragher have spoken of their devastation after the death of the club’s former manager Gérard Houllier at the age of 73.
Houllier died on Monday following a heart operation in Paris. He first underwent heart surgery while Liverpool manager in October 2001 – a few months after leading the team to an unprecedented cup treble – but remained heavily involved in the game and was an influential member of Uefa’s technical committee. He also managed Lens, Paris Saint-Germain, France, Lyon and Aston Villa, winning the French league with PSG and Lyon.
Rick Parry, Liverpool’s chief executive during Houllier’s reign, described him as the perfect fit for Anfield in 1998 and vital to restoring the club as a European power in the Champions League era.
The EFL chairman said of Houllier’s appointment, initially in a joint-managerial role with Roy Evans: “My view was that we were heading for a collection of European superpowers and it would be very difficult to overtake them without being in the Champions League, so that was a priority. That meant we wanted a manager with knowledge of Europe and European players. And who better than the technical director of the next world champions? We didn’t know France would win the World Cup at the time, but Gérard was clearly doing a phenomenal job in France.
“His connection with the city was really important too. He was an Anglophile who spoke incredible English and Gerard understood the club, the city, the fans and the importance of the club to the city.
“With his international perspective as well, he was the perfect fit. He was incredibly generous with his time, so enthusiastic, incredibly caring and very warm. I vividly remember taking over from Peter Robinson fully in 2000 and sitting down with Gérard. He said to me: “One thing is certain, the day will come when we have to part company but we will always be friends.’ And we did always remain friends.”
As well as victory in the 2001 League Cup, FA Cup and Uefa Cup – Liverpool’s first European trophy for 17 years – Houllier was responsible for modernising the club and the development of young talent such as Gerrard and Michael Owen, who won the Ballon d’Or during his tenure.
“Absolutely heartbroken to hear that my old boss, Gérard Houllier, has sadly passed away,” tweeted Owen, who also won the League Cup under Houllier in 2003. “A great manager and a genuinely caring man.” Gerrard, who Houllier appointed as Liverpool captain, wrote on Instagram: “Devastated to hear the news my former manager Gérard Houllier has passed away. I will never forget what this man did for me and my career. Rest in peace Boss. YNWA x”.
Thompson, Houllier’s former Anfield assistant, and Carragher said they were absolutely shocked by his death. Carragher tweeted: “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 & as a player & got @LFC back winning trophies. RIP Boss.”
Houllier spent a year in the late 1960s working as a teaching assistant at Alsop comprehensive school in Liverpool before starting his coaching career in the French lower leagues, where three promotions with Noeux-les-Mines earned him a move to Lens.
He was assistant manager of France under Michel Platini and became manager in 1992, but resigned the following year after missing out on qualification for the 1994 World Cup. He later became technical director at the French Football Federation before moving to Liverpool.
The club’s current manager, Jürgen Klopp, said: “He is a true Liverpool legend and he is a true coaching legend. He was really influential in the game. A great coach, but a human being who gave you a really warm feeling when you were around him. For all of us it is a big loss and a really sad day.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed Manchester United while Houllier was Anfield, said he would “miss him dearly”.
“The news has come as a total shock this morning,” he said. “Gérard Houllier was still a young man at the age of 73. Gérard 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.
“He had fantastic football knowledge which he gained during his extensive and varied career. When we saw each other at Uefa meetings or other events, we would often enjoy a chat, he was always great company and I will miss him dearly. He was a true gentleman.”
Dalglish said on Twitter: “Very sad news about Gérard Houllier. He was a gentleman and a great footballing person; I enjoyed his company many times. His legacy at LFC will forever be appreciated, respected and never forgotten. Marina and I offer our sincere condolences to his family. RIP Gerard. YNWA”