Gérard Houllier could return as Aston Villa’s director of football


• Former Liverpool manager could link up with Kevin MacDonald
• Caretaker would stay on as first-team coach

Stuart James
The Guardian, Friday 3 September 2010

Gerard Houllier 006 Gérard Houllier could return as Aston Villas director of football

Gérard Houllier is in line to return to the Premier League as the director of football at Aston Villa. Photograph: David Azia/APGérard
Houllier could make a surprise return to football with Aston Villa after it emerged last night that the Frenchman is under serious consideration for a director of football role that would see him work alongside Kevin MacDonald.

Villa have been interviewing candidates for the vacant manager’s position this week, including MacDonald, who has been in charge on a caretaker basis ever since Martin O’Neill resigned five days before the start of the season, but Houllier is now the leading contender. Houllier has not been involved in management since he left Lyon in 2007 but he has extensive knowledge of English football, following the six years he spent in charge of Liverpool, between 1998 and 2004, and is highly respected within the game.

The 62-year-old has, however, suffered heart problems and it seems highly unlikely that Villa would want him to take over as manager and expose him to the considerable pressure that would accompany that position. A much more plausible scenario would see Houllier work in tandem with MacDonald, who is regarded as an excellent coach but has failed to convince that he is management material during the five games he has spent in charge.

Graham Taylor, the former England and Villa manager, suggested such a structure would work well when he recently held talks with Paul Faulkner, the club’s chief executive, to offer advice about O’Neill’s successor. Taylor believes that MacDonald’s skills are on the training ground and Villa appear to have accepted that is the case. MacDonald , who was interviewed by Randy Lerner, Villa’s owner, on Wednesday, has indicated that he would be receptive to working in partnership with a more experienced figure.

There were suggestions last night that Villa would make an appointment today but club officials have indicated a decision is not imminent.

Although Houllier’s time at Anfield will be remembered by many Liverpool supporters for the poor signings that were a feature of the latter years of his reign, he also achieved considerable success, most notably in 2001, when the club won three major trophies. His responsibilities at Villa would be wide-ranging and include setting up a worldwide scouting network to address weaknesses in that area.

Villa’s search for a new manager has already led to Sven-Goran Eriksson and Alan Curbishley being interviewed for the post. Eriksson is not in the running but Curbishley has yet to be ruled out. Houllier, however, is top of the shortlist and has held positive discussions with the Villa hierarchy.