How it went wrong for Houllier

Last updated at 12:16 24 May 2004

So where did it all go wrong for Gerard Houllier, backroom architect of France's World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs?

He arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 1998 billed as the man with the experience and coaching genius to restore Liverpool to their former glories.

No league title since 1989-90 had ended the reigns of Graeme Souness and Roy Evans. Houllier was going to be different, with the clout, knowledge and respect of Europe to restore Liverpool to their former glories.

It worked for a long while. Progressing from seventh to second in four seasons was a hard-fought achievement. The next step - winning the title - is so much harder.

Where Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have scored big in their careers is in the transfer market, something Houllier never quite cracked.

Strong start

After an initial flurry that saw Dietmar Hamann, Sander Westerveld, Sami Hyypia, John Arne Riise and Jerzy Dudek sign, the quality level dropped.

Houllier tried to put his French knowledge to good use but while Wenger prospered with Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry, Liverpool were frustrated by the likes of Djimi Traore, Gregory Vignal and Bruno Cheyrou.

Manchester United spent big to lure £19million Ruud van Nistelrooy, but a year later Houllier spent just £400,000 less than that to attract El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Milan Baros to Anfield.

And when injuries on the current scale have bitten into the squad, the back-up has not been good enough, certainly not good enough for Liverpool.

Houllier has spent nearly £130m and claimed back around £60m - decent business over five years - but he soon discovered he could not trust the bit-part players.

Success for Arsenal and United had come via expansive attacking football, but Liverpool's dour, cautious approach hardly helped attacking talent find its feet.

Weak defence

Ironically, it was that style which won them their six trophies under Houllier, but as the criticism got worse, he opted for a more open system at the beginning of the recently-completed season - and discovered the cracks in his defence.

Hyypia lost form, Dudek made too many mistakes, Hamann was injured and Riise became erratic.

Injuries were particularly costly. Michael Owen's regular absence robbed Houllier of his prime attacking threat while Harry Kewell was persistently "missing" when needed most.

The loss of their Champions League place just over a year ago, and the projected £20m that brings, hit Houllier's transfer budget hard.

Kewell and Steve Finnan were the only well-known summer arrivals, with French teenagers Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Antony Le Tallec being hopes for the future.

While Chelsea have ripped up the rulebook with over £100m worth of new faces, Liverpool have suffered most. They cannot compete with money that big, hence the somewhat embarrassing hawking of the club around the Far East.

Steve Morgan's three attempts to induce a shares and rights issue has failed to impressed chairman David Moores who has no intention of backing himself into a corner that could see him lose control of a club his family have run for 30 years or more.

Manchester United have their youth resources, money and stature, to at least offer some resistence to Chelsea while Arsenal are living off the knowledge of Wenger and the battery of super talents he has developed at Highbury.

Liverpool and Houllier have not been able to do that, and Morgan was quick to point out that the Gunners' success has been achieved on the same sort of budget as Houllier has had.

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