By Mark Chaplin in Noordwijk
Gérard Houllier is back in the big time - and relishing his new challenge as coach of French champions Olympique Lyonnais.
The Frenchman, who took charge of Lyon earlier this week, gave of his time while attending a UEFA coach education course in the Netherlands to tell uefa.com about the work that lies ahead in ensuring that his new club remains the dominant force in French football - and about his pleasure at seeing his previous club, Liverpool FC, pull off an amazing UEFA Champions League success.
Houllier has worked as a TV pundit in the UK since leaving Liverpool a year ago, but this self-confessed football addict admits that the pull of the game was too strong to keep him away from another major challenge with Lyon, a club that also yearns to make a lasting mark in the Champions League. "My passion and enthusiasm for the game prevailed," Houllier said of his move to Lyon. "It's a big club - one of the very rare clubs that has played six times in the Champions League on the trot, and they seem to progress every year."
Houllier tasted French championship glory with Paris Saint-Germain FC in 1986, and another domestic success is a priority objective. "Obviously the target is to win a fifth consecutive title, which would be a record in French football. I think the challenge is high, but the team is good - they are a bunch of competitors and very professional - and I'm sure that this is also their challenge. We also want to progress in the Champions League and win it at some stage."
Lyon's ambition and vision as a club impressed Houllier: "They know where they are, they know where they want to go, and what they want to achieve. Now, they have asked me to accompany them. The club is not only a big club, but it looks as if it is a club with a lot of human warmth about it - there is also a family atmosphere."
UEFA Cup victory
This most passionate and erudite of coaches will always be remembered fondly by Liverpool FC fans for an 'annus mirabilis' in 2001 when he brought five pieces of silverware to the club, including a UEFA Cup clinched after a magnificent nine-goal thriller against Deportivo Alavés in Dortmund. There was a nice touch last week, when Houllier was able to visit the Liverpool dressing room in Istanbul to offer his congratulations.
He is unequivocally clear that his successor Rafael Benítez should take all the credit for European glory along with the team. "I was pleased that some of the players said in the press that it was also because of the foundation, because nine of the players were Gérard Houllier's signings," Houllier said. "That is a kind of gratefulness and acknowledgement that we're not used to. This is why I think Liverpool is special.
"I had such a wonderful welcome when I went to visit them.
I was very happy for the fans, very happy for the players and very happy for the directors, because they become friends. You don't spend six years as I did in Liverpool and just leave like that. I'm their first supporter and they know that.
"The only credit I can take is the fact that we managed to qualify for the Champions League because we finished fourth [in 2003/04]! Their run in the competition was fantastic, and of course the final - it's something special; it's only in football that you can see that." This week, there is real pleasure among many people to see that Gérard Houllier is back in the game he adores.
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