The Houllier Years: Part 1 - The French Revolution

Last updated : 25 May 2004 By Kevin Smith
Chairman David Moores and Executive Vice Chairman Peter Robinson realised that the club would have to break with tradition and embrace change if they were going to compete with Manchester United and Arsenal.

The Boot Room philisophy of recruiting from within had reached the end of the line. It was time for a new regime to re-evaluate all the elements of the club; the training methods, players' diet, transfer policy, youth development and the club's commercial and markeing strategies.

As the club struggled through the 1997/98 season it became clear that Evans had done all he can and a new manager was needed. Moores and Robinson began their search for a replacement. "It's a massive, massive club - the most successful club in England - and we want to get it back to that state," declared Moores.

In the summer of 1998 Liverpool had found their man. Robinson's friendship with Gerard Houllier had spanned three decades, from his days as a student teacher in Liverpool. He had met Robinson on a visit to Melwood and been given permission to study Bill Shankly's training methods. 25 years later that friendship sowed the seed for Houllier's appointment as manager of Liverpool Football Club.

After a spell as technical director of the French Football Federation leading up to the country's success in the 1998 World Cup, Houllier was soon earmarked for the vacant managerial post at Celtic. ~On hearing the news Robinson telephoned Houllier and asked him if he would consider the Liverpool job instead.

While traditionalists were keen to appoint former legend John Toshack, Robinson convinced Moores and the rest of the board that Houllier was the man for the job.

On his arrival on Merseyside, Houllier chose to live in the city, rather than the outskirts where the players preferred to dwell. He wanted to find out what the fans were saying about the club and what was needed to turn things around.

Initially employed alongside Evans, Houllier's initial job was to sort out the leaky defence that had conceded 42 goals in the previous season. But the partnership struggled and by November Evans had quit. The season was not a good one. Liverpool had started it with joint managers at the helm, and finished it languishing in midtable with the first foreign manager in the club's history in sole charge.

The revolution was to start in the close season. David James was replaced by Dutch number two Sander Westerveld. Steve McManaman left for Real Madrid on a free transfer, and in came Vladimir Smicer from Lens to take over the coveted number 7 shirt. Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz were brought in to sure up the defence, and Newcastle's Dietmar Hamann replaced the self-proclaimed Guv'nor Paul Ince, who was seen as a disruptive influence in the dressing room.

The following season saw a dramatic improvement. Out went the comic-book defending for which the club had been reknown over the previous seasons, and gone were the off-the-field scandals that had given the players the Spice Boys tag. Failure to score a single goal in the last five games left them a place adrift of Champions League qualification, but there were enough signs to show that things were turning around.

Next: Part 2 - The Highs and Lows