Gerard Houllier, former Liverpool coach, dies at 73

Sports

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010 file photo, Aston Villa Gerard Houllier looks on before his team’s English Premier League soccer against Birmingham City at Villa Park stadium, Birmingham, England. Gerard Houllier, a Frenchman who won three titles in one season as coach of English club Liverpool, has died. He was 73. Liverpool announced the death on Twitter on Monday Dec. 14, 2020. French sports daily L’Equipe said Houllier died following heart surgery in France. (AP Photo/Simon Dawson, File)

PARIS (AP) — Gerard Houllier, a Frenchman who led English club Liverpool to three titles in one season following a disappointing spell as coach of France’s national team, has died. He was 73.

Liverpool and the French soccer federation announced the death Monday. French sports daily L’Equipe said Houllier, who also won the French league title with two different teams, died at home on Sunday following heart surgery in France.

“He is a true Liverpool legend and he is a true coaching legend,” said Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp. “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.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to Houllier, along with many current and former Liverpool players.

“Absolutely devastated by the news about Gerard Houllier,” Jamie Carragher wrote on Twitter. “Loved that man to bits, he changed me as a person and as a player and got LFC back winning trophies. RIP Boss.”

Houllier had a mediocre stint as coach of France’s national team in the early 1990s, his short-lived journey ending with an embarrassing failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

His tenure at Liverpool was far more successful, leading the Reds to the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble in 2001. He is one of only three managers — along with Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola — to have won three trophies with an English club in the same season.

Houllier joined Liverpool in 1998, initially as co-manager with Roy Evans before taking sole control within a few months after Evans stepped down. He rebuilt the team, bringing a more disciplined and tactically savvy approach using more foreign-based players.

“Gerard Houllier was still a young man at the age of 73,” former Manchester United manager Ferguson said. “He had fantastic football knowledge which he gained during his extensive and varied career.”

Arsene Wenger, another Frenchman who had a big impact on the English league when he coached Arsenal, said his former rival “brought Liverpool into the modern era.”

“It was he who launched Steven Gerrard, who took Carragher forward, and so many others,” Wenger told L’Equipe. “He is enormously respected in Liverpool for everything he has done there.”

Houllier had recovered from heart surgery in 2001 after doctors operated on him for several hours to repair damage to a major artery near his heart. He stopped coaching in 2011 following a final job with Aston Villa.

UEFA paid tribute to Houllier at the start of the Champions League draw on Monday.

“He greatly contributed to European football,” UEFA deputy secretary general Giorgio Marchetti said. “Our thoughts are with his family and the whole of French football in these difficult times.”

A former amateur player turned English teacher, Houllier started his coaching career with second-division French team Noeux-les-Mines before joining Lens. He moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1986 and led the club to its first league title.

Houllier joined the French federation in 1988 and was appointed as deputy coach of the national squad, working alongside Michel Platini. Houllier was named coach when Platini stepped down following the 1992 European Championship.

As France coach, Houllier endured a huge letdown after his players were seconds away from qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the United States only to blow their chances in a dramatic finale.

France needed only a draw from its final two home qualifiers against Israel and Bulgaria to reach the World Cup. France led Israel 2-1 before conceding two goals in the last 10 minutes and losing 3-2.

Hosting Bulgaria, which needed a win to qualify, France took the lead after 30 minutes but Emil Kostadinov evened the score five minutes later. Then, with only a minute left, France striker David Ginola gave the ball away and Kostadinov fired a half-volley past goalkeeper Bernard Lama.

Houllier stepped down after the traumatic exit but continued to work with successor Aime Jacquet, helping France win the 1998 World Cup before joining Liverpool the same year. After six years with the Reds, Houllier returned to France in 2005 as coach of Lyon, winning two French league titles.

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