Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has emerged as the frontrunner to become Aston Villa’s new boss – after club chairman Randy Lerner met with all of the contenders for the Villa Park vacancy.
The Frenchman, who turns 63 today, is believed to have come across as the outstanding candidate following the Villa board’s week of interviews.
Houllier, who won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup treble with Liverpool in 2001, has not worked in the Premier League since he left Anfield by mutual consent on May 2004.
But he has the reputation and gravitas that the Villa top brass believe will keep the club upwardly mobile following Martin O’Neill’s untimely resignation three-and-a-half weeks ago.
Houllier also boasts a CV which includes winning the French league with Paris Saint Germain in the 1980s and twice in successive seasons in his last job in club management with Lyon in 2006-07.
He has since been employed as France’s technical director.
He fits Villa’s primary criterion of having managed in the Premier League during his six-year spell with the Merseyside giants.
His work on the developmental side of French football also ticks a box with Villa hoping to improve their policy of bringing through homegrown talent to the first team.
In 1988, Houllier took up a role at France’s National Technical Training Centre and the following year he was appointed Director for National Technical Direction.
He spent 10 years overhauling French football at various levels, playing a part in France winning the UEFA European U-18 Championship in 1996 and being credited for his contribution to their 1998 World Cup triumph on home soil.
Houllier is believed to have given Villa assurances that a return to the English top flight will not lead to the health problems he suffered during his time at Liverpool.
Lerner and his trusted lieutenant, chief executive Paul Faulkner, concluded the interview stage by talking to the final two candidates yesterday.
Although, Villa’s top brass already have clear idea of the frontrunner to succeed O’Neill, they will take the weekend to mull over the final decision.
There is likely to be an announcement on Monday.
Speculation has raged about the identity of the would-be managers on Villa’s shortlist all week with Kevin MacDonald and Alan Curbishley two of the other known interviewees.
Meanwhile, one of the new manager’s first tasks should be to overhaul the club’s sub-standard scouting system, according to ex-boss Graham Taylor.
O’Neill’s departure also saw chief scout Ian Storey-Moore leave Villa Park at the same time.
“When I was on the board at Villa I asked the then manager, John Gregory, what he wanted, and how I could help,” said Taylor. “He said that Villa needed a better worldwide scouting system and I set about putting that in place for him.
“However, when I left it was not carried on. It’s the big area that is letting down Villa.
“I know Ian Storey-Moore, who was chief scout under O’Neill, and how the club operated.
“Villa did not take many players from abroad, it was mainly an English-based squad. That has to change.
"MacDonald and the board must never again be wide open to five senior members of the football staff leaving when the manager goes. It has wiped them out.”