Belfast Telegraph

Aston Villa put Gerard Houllier back in business

Gerard Houllier was tonight named Aston Villa's new manager, completing an unlikely return to the Premier League for the former Liverpool boss at the age of 63.

When Houllier stood down as manager of Olympique Lyonnais citing a desire to step away from the limelight after having won back to back titles in France, it was considered he would wile away the remainder of his career in the more genteel role of technical director of the French Football Federation.

However he has come out of semi-retirement to succeed Martin O'Neill at Villa Park, beating the likes of former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and ex-West Ham and Charlton manager Alan Curbishley, who were both also interviewed for the job along with current caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald.

Villa owner Randy Lerner and his chief executive Paul Faulkner were charmed by Houllier during his interview, and the Frenchman last night spoke of his delight at returning to a Premier League club.

Houllier said: “I am very happy and proud to join this great and historic club. It was a very difficult decision for me to leave the FFF (French Football Federation) but I could not turn down the opportunity to manage a club whose approach, both on and off the pitch, I have long admired.

“Aston Villa is one of England's biggest clubs and has an amazing set of fans. This is a tremendous challenge and one I am very much looking forward to taking on.”

There have been question marks raised over Houllier's health after he suffered heart problems during the latter part of his time with Liverpool.

He underwent an 11-hour operation on his heart in 2001 but has assured Lerner he is in fine health now.

Houllier will arrive in Birmingham this morning morning to meet the players at the club's training complex in Bodymoor Heath before being presented to the media. His appointment ends a prolonged period of uncertainty at

Aston Villa, after O'Neill resigned five days before the start of the new season.

Lerner had wanted to recruit a British manager with Premier League experience to carry on the progress made under O'Neill, but Houllier's experience of six years with Liverpool, from 1998 to 2004, and his international standing made him the outstanding candidate.

MacDonald, who was the overwhelming choice of the Villa players, is likely to be offered the chance to work alongside Houllier, possibly as his assistant, which is being seen as a peace offering to the dressing room, some members of which are said to be unhappy at the Frenchman's appointment.

Houllier had wanted his former Liverpool assistant Phil Thompson to join him at Villa Park but the Sky Sports pundit turned him down.

The Frenchman is now considering two of his former players, in Middlesbrough's assistant manager Gary McAllister and MK Dons midfielder Dietmar Hamann, the former Germany international.

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