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Gérard Houllier - The Story So Far...


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by kinggeorge

It's been a few months since the manager's arrival so I think it's time to have a quick look at what life's been like in the early days of Gérard Houllier's leadership.

There has been a general air of malaise over Villa Park so far this season, a sense that everyone is just waiting to see what happens without having any real expectations as to what may come from the season and this has continued since Houllier has taken over. This is not a criticism of the Frenchman, just a note on where we are as a club at the moment. We appear to be in a period of transition, we have been through the heavy spending period and now are reigning ourselves in to stabilise as a club and to fall into line with the impending FIFA financial fairplay regulations, both very important in my opinion. As the season has begun to take shape there is still little indication of what the season may hold, with a big week coming up with two derbies and Liverpool, let's have a look at what we've learned about the Houllier's reign so far.

The Results:

Patchy. There have been some highs, Wolves away, there have been some lows, Blackburn away, though I have to agree with the manager, a good number of the results haven't matched the performances the lads have put in. He may well point to the statistic that we have hit the woodwork nine times already this season, more than any other club. He could also point out one statistic that can be looked at in two ways; we have lost more points from winning positions than any other club so far, twelve. Now, you could say that had we gone on to win all of those games, we would be challenging for top spot in the table! On the other hand, we haven't won all those games and the tendency to concede leads is a major concern. I would prefer to take the positive attitude, it's good that we've taken the game to the opposition and it's good that we've got ourselves into leading positions and moreover, I believe it's only a matter of time with fitness and attitude that we improve on this aspect. Overall, I would say our performances have been of a generally good standard with the odd exception and with the nature of the league this season, I would not yet be overly concerned with our league position just yet.


One of the first things Houllier commented on having taken control was the need for Villa to be able to maintain a high level of performance for ninety minutes, this will not have as a surprise to many fans having seen us struggle to do so especially in the latter stages of last season. This also led to everyone hearing John Terry's thoughts on the players' endurance after our 7-1 reversal at Stamford Bridge during the last campaign. As a result players were put onto a double session intense training course in order that we could compete with the physical requirements of the Premier League. This will, in time, be of huge benefit for the club but with intense training comes injuries and my, have we had injuries! I, for one, have never seen anything like it and look forward to the return of some of our senior players, as well as an end to the freak bugs and run of the mill niggles hitting our squad. Once the results of these fitness regimes are in full effect and the injuries have cleared I believe we will be in far better shape as a team. As a consequence we will surely reduce the number of late goals we are conceding (the last ten minutes is the period in which we have conceded the most goals) and as touched on earlier will reduce the number of dropped points from potential winning positions.

The Style:

Houllier has certainly instilled a passing ethic in the team, with a greater effort not to bypass the midfield and some of our more skilled ball players. However, he has shown that he is flexible enough to use a more direct style when required and switch things around when things aren't going to plan. It has also been good to see us trying to maintain a higher line in defence even if at times we have dropped into old habits. Even when playing a counter attack system we haven't fallen back to overly extreme depths and have tried to play the ball out rather than just relying on strikers running the channels as a release. Obviously, as with all the things a new manager tries to change, these things take time and over the next few months the players will adjust to a greater degree to new tactics, especially with the return of some of the more experienced absentees.

The Players:

One thing that has been universally commented on by Villa fans since the Frenchman's arrival is the greater variety we've seen in team selection. It's quite nice turning up at Villa Park and actually looking forward to the announcement of the starting announcement with interest. Clearly, a good deal of this is down to the volume of injuries we are enduring, still, it is nice to see faith in our younger players and a willingness to give players a chance. In particular, the emerging talents of Albrighton, Bannan and Clark have been exciting as well, of course, of the pre-injury form of Heskey. It is hard to judge the overall level of the squad and areas for improvement when we have had such an unusual number of injuries but I think it is safe to say we will be looking to add one or two bodies to the squad in the upcoming transfer window.

The left back area is certainly one where a little more cover would be of benefit and the addition of Pires has added an option to our forward line. Central midfield has been one area where we have, on occasion, struggled to match the opposition though with the prospect of Petrov, Reo-Coker, Sidwell and Delph returning is investment required? It should also be taken into account that the likes of Bannan and Clark are only likely to improve in that position. One complaint that is regularly heard amongst fans is that we need a twenty goal a season striker, this is something I am always wary of saying. Clearly the addition of such a striker would be of benefit to any Premier League club but with the inevitable cost of such as striker being in the region of £20m I am happy with what we have on that front. Gabby showed all his attributes against Manchester United with a fantastic performance, there are not many strikers in the league that can occupy Ferdinand and Vidic as a lone striker in the way he did, using his strength, pace, touch and ability in the air. I also believe that he does have the ability to go up that level to become a really top class striker. One more note on this subject is that Houllier has indicated thus far that he prefers a single striker with a man behind and with already four strikers in the squad we would most likely have to sell before we bought.

One opportunity on that front may be the sale of Carew who has not performed at all as yet disappointingly and clearly there is some issue with the manager there, he has become a folk hero at the Villa but it does appear that his time may be coming to an end. Another player who has already split opinions has been new recruit Stephen Ireland, who has shown only glimpses of his ability so far. I have always been a fan of his and personally would be very disappointed for him not to get given a good go at the club, it should be taken into account he has barely played ten games for the club. He obviously has an incredible amount of talent, it's just a matter of how to get it out of him. Hearing Craig Bellamy speak about him during the Blackburn game was interesting, he was effusive in his praise of the Irishman and was amazed that he hadn't yet settled, if he can impress his colleagues as much at a club with the talent of Manchester City he could clearly be a huge asset for us, if he can settle into the team and buy into the ethic Houllier is trying to bring to his players.

The Press:

One of the more bizarre stories of the new regime has been how the Frenchman has used the media in his time at the club. Anyone who read his interview in the Daily Mail last week will have been very impressed with what he said. He talked of the importance of putting the team first, a bond of trust between both players themselves and players and staff and developing a positive, winning mentality. He also admitted, how, towards the end of his Liverpool tenure became overly concerned with press criticism and was determined to prove doubters wrong possibly to the extent of it impairing his judgement. This was extremely humble of him and good to hear as it was one concern I had when he was appointed. There have been some episodes I disagree with as well, however, for example, I found it ironic that in the build up to the Manchester United game he talked of the excellent managerial skills of Sir Alex Ferguson, pointing out that he never criticised his players in the press, when in the same week he had labelled Carew "stupid" and had a little dig at Stephen Ireland as well. These are issues that I feel should be kept in house.


It's been a strange few months for the club and on paper it doesn't look too impressive but I feel there is a great deal of change taking place at the club and it is vital we back the manager and trust in what he is trying to achieve. It will take time and this is something that people are going to have to be prepared to be patient with but I see a lot of positive signs emerging already. This could be a season of transition for us and it is important we get behind the team and the club as a whole, there is plenty to play for and who knows what we can achieve.


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Quite a lot of the good times ahead you see are based on optimism and your belief that things will get better.

I think that sense of optimism is fading amongst Villa fans, and we need to start seeing some actual positive results from the Houllier "revoultion" fairly soon, or disillusionment will start to set in big-time. Our recent form has been relegation form, no matter how much fitter the players are, nor how much more they are passing the ball around.

The biggest issue overhanging the club - and possibly the deciding factor in whether we struggle for the whole season and even whether key players decide to stay - is how much money is actually available to bring in much needed reinforcements to strengthen the squad (and, of course, how well that money is spent).

I don't think we can be too dogmatic about better times to come until we see the answer to those questions.

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A lot of these things are hard to comment on at present - especially fitness because we won't know until the back end of the season if that has paid dividends or not but I think it should.

Houllier needs a couple of transfer windows to do something. He needs to be a VERY busy boy in Jan and wheel and deal with aplomb if we want to play this style of football.

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Seems to me Houllier is trying to implement a new system - and is receiving resistance or an inability of the players to change. The young players seem to have done well - but the senior players esp the defenders appear to have gone backwards. Nobody has actually broke ranks in the squad yet - but the longer this goes on - the players, like the fans will start to think 'does this Houllier Geezer know how to make us win' - thus whatever he says will be treated with scepticism by the players.

I don't like Houlliers blueprint and can't see it working. The premier league is about pace and power - we seem to fart about with ball in own half - then when we approach the opposition box - its out wide and crossed in - by this this time the opposition defence is ready able and waiting - I can't see this working whoever the players are.

That said he deserves until the end of the season ....although on current form he may not get that

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Yes, this is an excellent, positive and thoughtful post. The contrast between the front page posts on this website, and the many negative and thoughtless posts on the message board is stark. I know that many people seem to find Houllier's passing game frustrating because it often doesn't get us anywhere, but neither did the 'hoof and hope' game under MON. For me, Villa are a far more attractive team to watch these days - we just need to solve that same problem we had under MON - finishing. We have long wanted a top striker and nothing has changed there. The defensive lapses in a previously strong defence are not easy to explain. Smetrov suggests it is due to players resisting change, or being unable to change, and there may be some truth in that, but I don't really see how the role of the defenders has changed greatly under Houllier, except that the ball is now played to midfield, rather than hoofed as far as possible upfield. The defensive lapses seem to me to be due to poor communication and positioning, and lack of concentration at times. If we could convert our chances into goals, the defensive lapses wouldn't be so critical anyway.

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For me, Villa are a far more attractive team to watch these days - we just

It seems people need to keep convincing themselves of this, houllier says he wants to play continental football and all of a sudden people think we're playing great football.

Apart from the man u game the football hasn't been anything special. The first half against arsenal and the 90 mins against blues are actually two of the worst performances I've seen in years.

It's fair to say houllier is trying something different but it's ridiculous to claim its made us better or more attractive. On the whole we have not passed the ball well.

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Chelsea 7-1 and Liverpool 5-0 not worse than that? Hmm. Losing 2-0 at home to Wigan was the worst game I've seen for Villa in recent times.

The left back area is certainly one where a little more cover would be of benefit

I agree with this bit and we definitely need someone who is a LB coming in in January.
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Yes we've had bad games in the past, usually we come back well after them, can't see that happening at the moment.

I'd love to know what performances under houllier have been better and more entertaining to watch than 3-1 win at anfield, 2-1 win at home over chelsea, 5-1 win over Bolton, 3-0 win over hull and a 5-2 win over burnley, could even include the 1-0 win at old Trafford as well.

Absolute bullshit that we're more entertaining to watch now, apart from 50 minutes against united nothing under houllier has come close to matching performances in the games mentioned above.

I guess people think if they say it enough it must be true.

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On the point of Fitness, surley this i.m.o is the initial essential key to success in any form of sport. This has been demonstrated in many other sports. For example Michael Schumacher in Formula One. A majour part of his dominance over the competition over the years was because he was so fit. If players are becoming fatigued before the end of the 90 mins its not just their pace that will drop, it more importantly is their concentration.

If Houllier believes this is still an issue for our players then it needs to be sorted now !

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I would go beyond saying it is 'probably' a season of transision to say it is a season of transision. The problem with MON leaving was it undid everything he workd to achieve and the new manager has to start afresh in his efforts to improve us. GH has to be left to instill his ways and mould a team in his style, for this he needs time and I don't think it is fair to make any definitive judgements on him this season.

The one thing I worry about right now is the the lack of steel we have. Yes, we play more fluent football, but we are not solid and if we are not careful this could get us into real trouble. As long as we avoid that, I am fully prepared to reserve my judgement on the new look Villa.

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Great Article.

It's all well and good getting on GH's back but he didn't bugger off at the start of August and leave us with no manager and no chance of buying anyone in the transfer window MON did. Lets put the blame for this where it lies, whilst we finished 6th for the last 3 seasons we had little chance of improving on this position without spending big. Obviously Randy Lerner took the same view that Doug had for many years if we haven't got the money we can't spend it, after all he didn't waste 10 million on Curtis Davies etc etc.

I think we have to give GH a chance, the style of football has changed but he is trying to do it with MON's players, the 2 styles are completely different. Wait until after the January transfer window then start to criticise if by bringing his own players in results don't improve.

Villa forever

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The story so far? Well the OP puts a largely positive spin on the situation - so here's a slightly different take.

He arrived telling us that Aston Villa Football Club is a team which finishes 8th to 12th in the league - not seen the last three seasons Gerard? He arrived telling us that we're bottlers in Europe - *cough cough* 1982, Gerard.

He has admittedly had many injuries to deal with, for which I was prepared to give him more lee-way. However injuries don't explain why we set up so negatively in the Second-City derby league game, injuries don't explain why we applied completely the wrong "game plan" against Blackburn and played into their hands, and injuries don't explain why our team looked defeated from minute one on Monday night. This injury problem seemed to coincide with introducing a completely new training regime. Has it made an impact? We can only speculate. But don't let people say Gerard has had no luck whatsoever. His first victory, Wolves away, I thought was very lucky. We were battered by Wolves who missed some great chances, only for Heskey to effectively rob them with a quite brilliant header at the death. There was no shortage of luck in that game.

He has baffled a large proportion of Villa fans by dropping Carlos Cuellar after a MOTM performance against Wolves - and not playing him again thus far (apart from the Carling Cup). What has made this ongoing decision even more bizarre is the fact that Richard Dunne, and lately James Collins have also been playing completely out-of-form, often to the detriment of the team. Why has Cuellar seemingly been rebuffed in such a manner? Some people have argued it's because Gerard "wants to keep balance in the team" by playing a right-footed player at right-centre back and vice versa. However that is not an argument I buy personally - as many centre-backs play in both CB berths with no difficulty, something Cuellar proved at Wolves.

Another decision which left certain fans perplexed is the open manner in which Gerard has decided to criticise - and in the case of John Carew - get into public spats with certain team members. A method which is highly unlikely to inspire the rest of the team and squad with much confidence or positivity. Looking at the performances of both Ireland and Carew since the manager's "blunt" remarks, I would be fairly confident of saying they did not have the desired effect. Neither of these two players looks like they want to play for the club any longer. Was this exacerbated by Gerard's remarks? It seems a highly likely probability.

I will not dwell on "rumours" because I don't want this to appear a witch-hunt, even though some rumours have come from previously very reliable sources. Briefly, some of these rumours have included reports that a number of senior players (some of whom are playing in the first team at present) have been told they are surplus to requirements in either January or the summer. If true, it's hardly likely to promote good feelings or inspire any motivation in the team. A number of senior players are supposedly disillusioned with the new strict regime which includes a rule banning players from "non-football" related talk on the training pitch and the carrying of mobile phones. Is this a popular footballing philosophy in the 21st century? Is this the best way to create a good team bond off the pitch?

Then we get on to the facts - 2 wins in 11 games - one win in 10 Premier League games - equating to more than a quarter of the season. Two points above the relegation zone with a tough run of Christmas fixtures ahead of us. Results don't lie, the table doesn't lie, and in my opinion the expressions of the players faces doesn't lie either. As Southgate commented on Monday night "something is clearly wrong at Aston Villa" - I don't think he's talking about injuries and i also don't think he's the type of person to "knee jerk" or "scaremonger" - two phrases which have been bandied about by certain fans.

Then we get on to Monday night. Personally I went to Liverpool knowing we were unlikely to get anything from the game, and that the media would "milk" the supposed occasion of Houllier returning as much as they could. I expected Houllier to perhaps clap their fans at the start and for an under-strength Villa team to have a real go at an under-strength Liverpool side. This was, of course, the perfect chance to bounce back from the Small Heath Alliance game.

What we got was something completely different. At the game it was bad enough - to see all 11 players give up so spectacularly (similarly to the Newcastle match) was unacceptable and quite frankly mind-boggling. Despite that, the fans out sung the "famous" Kop for 90 minutes and were a credit to our Club. At the final whistle the very least Gerard Houllier could have done - the majority feel - was to applaud our magnificent away following. So to see him instead clapping starry-eyed at the Kop and ignoring our fans was an absolute disgrace. After the match our fans were ready to walk out dejected and deflated, instead they walked out angry and betrayed.

So to get home and read his pathetic comments - including one where he said the game was over at 2-0 - do we need a manager with that defeatist mentality running our great club? It then also became apparent that he had stroked the "This is Anfield" sign - a tradition for Liverpool players and managers - and almost walked into the home-dressing room before the game. What was the guy playing at? In my mind he heaped embarrassment and belittled the fans of our great club in front of the watching world in the greatest capacity to behold, that of manager. He should be representing us, not provoking this sort of outrage through his actions.

He famously and recently accused John Carew in public of 'living in the past' - well that statement has really come back to haunt him now. In my opinion, despite his years of experience in the game, he turned what was a crucial PL match into his own testimonial. And that, for me, is unforgiveable. They say the attitude of the players often reflects that of their manager, and Monday it proved to be the case.

I'm not going to get into whether I think he should stay or go - people can easily read between the lines - but for me, that's the story of Mr Houllier so far.

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I shall go against the majority here: The lead article is totally contrary to my perspective and smacks of blind faith. Not to mention a huge dollop of 'Emperor's New Clothes'.

I prefer facts. Since GH has been in charge we've beaten 4 teams: Blackburn (lgcup), Wolves, Burnley (lgcup) and Blackpool. Played 14: W 4, D 4, L 6. We are 16th in the league. There has been a plummet in the form of our centre halves, who were both good enough to be universally praised last season. There has been almost no fight nor unity or team spirit to behold, with the exception of the second half against Manure. Since his arrival there has been a deluge of injuries, coinciding with his new training regime. He insulted us on Monday night. He has no reason to love Aston Villa. He insulted us on Monday night. He thought Pires would be a good acquisition, and actually played him against Blackburn away. He is old, and has been out of management for several years. He insulted us on Monday night. He insulted us on Monday night. He insulted us on Monday night.

Just because we get behind the team doesn't mean we believe we're always going in the right direction. Conversely, just because I want this manager out does not make me a 'fickle fan'. VTID.

Just get rid of this awful bloke, please.

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