Houllier's Villa move a backwards step
Gerard Houllier is set to take charge at Aston Villa, but TEAMtalk's James Marshment reckons it would be a large backwards step for the club. Ask any Liverpool fan of their obiding memory of Gerard Houllier and it would undoubtedly be the 2001 Treble of League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. For a club that had then (and still now) been starved of league success, the cup haul that year hinted at a plausible return to former glories. However, a number of dubious signings, and the notoriously badly-handled exits of Kop favourites such as Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, and the club were soon in reverse before the Frenchman eventually left Anfield in the summer of 2004. A two-year stint with then all-conquering French outfit Lyon followed, and although he maintained the club's position at the top of the Ligue 1 tree, he was never really accepted by Les Gones and left under something of a cloud in 2007. In the time that has elapsed since, Houllier has since been employed as the technical director of the French Football Federation - a pen-pushing role that is more feet-up, than it is hands-on. And it's not even as if Les Bleus had a successful World Cup either - though quite how much of the blame Houllier should take for the French farce this summer has never been questioned or queried. So, with news that Villa are ready to offer the Frenchman a Premier League return, it comes as a huge surprise to me that they're moving for a 63-year-old who is six years out of the loop in England. Aside from the changes the game has undergone in that time, Houllier has only been back on English soil for infrequent visits since his Liverpool departure. Tactically and commercially the game over here has changed - and the pressures on managers more intense than ever. The Frenchman's health issues forced him to miss almost an entire season at Anfield - for that reason alone Villa should proceed with caution. And just how much football has he seen in England lately? Does he know how to combat free-scoring Chelsea's 4-2-3-1 formation? How to prevent 6-0 maulings at Newcastle or even how neighbours Birmingham have become so hard-to-beat on their home turf? There is also talk that Houllier will appoint his former Anfield right-hand man Phil Thompson - a nice enough character, but another yesterday's man who is better suited to the Sky Sports studios than the Villa Park bench. After four years of relative success for the Midlanders under Martin O'Neill, the Villa fans would have (quite rightly) expected a man brought in who could take the club on to the next level. That would mean pushing for a top-four finish and pushing for domestic cup success. But I don't think Houllier is that man, and I can see the club falling backwards under his tenure and worse yet, more of their star names following James Milner's lead and wanting to leave. The wily old Frenchman could prove me wrong yet - and in typical Simon Wilkes style I may have to eat humble pie on this one - but I believe Villa will be making a huge mistake here. If they do land their man, however, I would urge them to strongly think about offering him a short-term deal, rather than a lengthy contract, as it'll be far easier to sort out a severance package when the appointment, as I expect it to, goes pear-shaped.
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