Gerard Houllier says he still has fond memories of his time in charge of Liverpool, but regrets coming back too soon after a heart operation in 2002.
Houllier took the reins at Anfield in 1998, initially as joint-manager alongside Roy Evans, and won four trophies during his six years at the helm.
The Frenchman was the Reds’ first ever foreign manager and is credited with modernising the culture at the club and nurturing several talented young players.
And Houllier, who currently works as the head of global football for Red Bull, overseeing the firm’s projects with RB Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg and New York Red Bulls, recalls his tenure on Merseyside with fondness.
“It’s nice to go to Anfield and hear people speak so fondly of the European nights we started to bring back. The self-belief and pride returned to the club.
“Liverpool is not like any other city. It suffered a lot for many years. Winning a European trophy – the UEFA Cup – after 16 years and after the long ban meant something. We were on the European map and world map again.
“There was the UEFA Cup final in Dortmund and the European nights we enjoyed in that competition against Barcelona, Porto and Roma – all strong teams. And qualifying for the new format of the Champions League for the first time.”
Houllier, who also lifted two League Cups and an FA Cup with the Reds, required an emergency operation following the discovery of a heart condition in October 2001.
Phil Thompson took caretaker charge but Houllier memorably returned for a 2-0 victory over Roma in the Champions League just four months later – a decision he now regrets.
“In hindsight I can tell you I made a mistake going back when I did. A couple of times I had been to see the boys and I said to Phil, ‘Do you think it will help if come back on that night? Maybe give the team a boost?’
“My surgeon was not happy about it. I did not even tell Rick and David Moores until three hours before kick-off. It was a great night, but I paid for it.
“I was very tired for a long time afterwards after I returned. The following season was difficult. When we started in 2002 I wasn't recovered. I wasn't sharp and when you are not sharp you don't make the right decisions, and there were a few I took which were wrong.
“There was pressure for me to continue in the job, but I must tell you I wanted to do it as well.”
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