Gerard Houllier has been admitted to hospital having been taken ill during the week and is set to miss Aston Villa’s clash with Stoke City tomorrow. Although the club has not identified the nature of his problems, an official statement confirmed he is currently: “In
A 2-1 win over West Ham United put Houllier’s side into a similarly comfortable position, with the three points ensuring the Villans reached the significant milestone of the 40-point mark. However, Villa’s current breather is only temporary. Despite residing in the top half of the table, Villa are still not mathematically safe in one of the most closely contested campaigns in the Premier League era and must continue without their manager for what is at present an indefinite period.
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Houllier is no stranger to ill health, having missed a significant portion of the 2001/02 campaign when in charge of Liverpool. The Frenchman complained of chest pain during his side’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United and was rushed into hospital for emergency – and ultimately life-saving – surgery. Houllier missed just over six months of Liverpool’s campaign, who recorded 17 wins, 12 draws and only five defeats in all competitions during his absence. This represented a very healthy record in context, yet it was in the subsequent years that the effects appeared to manifest. Houllier, much like his side, appeared to lose an element of the sparkle that had fired Liverpool to a cup treble the season before.
Prior to taking over at Villa Park, Houllier returned to France, first as manager of Lyon and then as a technical director for the French Football Federation. The latter role saw him focus on youth development without the stresses of running a club on a day-to-day basis and it is this preference for promoting youth that has seen prospects such as Ciaran Clarke, Marc Albrighton, Chris Herd and Nathan Delfouneso enjoy prolonged first-team exposure this term.
Yet, for all of the success these young players have enjoyed in establishing themselves in the first XI, Villa have endured a difficult season, highlighted by comparison to their sixth-paced finish last term and, until recently, their proximity to the relegation zone. With five games remaining Villa find themselves only seven points clear of the drop, and with those seven points separating 10 teams, Villa know there is still no margin for error. With a trip to title-chasing Arsenal before the season culminates with the visit of Houllier’s former club, the next three games are crucial.
West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic and Saturday’s visitors Stoke all lie beneath Villa in the table, making the clashes proverbial six-pointers and without their manager, Villa face a nervous finish to the season. With testing times ahead assistant manager Gary McAllister – a Liverpool player under Houllier at the time of his last absence – takes charge on Saturday and will need to instil the same spirit that Houllier’s men showed nearly a decade ago.