GERARD HOULLIER admits he found it impossible to turn down the chance to return to the Barclays Premier League as Aston Villa’s new manager.
Houllier has resigned as technical director of the French Football Federation (FFF) to take charge of the midlands club in succession to Martin O’Neill.
The 63-year-old is expected to be unveiled to the media at a press conference today.
He 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. 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.”
Houllier becomes Villa’s 25th manager in their 126-year history – six years after his reign as Liverpool boss ended – and has a hard act to follow in O’Neill, who guided Villa to three consecutive top-six finishes in the Premier League.
The Frenchman is only their second ever foreign manager after Czech Jozef Venglos, who had an ill-fated spell at the club two decades ago.
Houllier fits the bill in terms of having the experience of managing in the Premier League and won a UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup treble in 2001.
But he has enjoyed success throughout his 37-year managerial career with Lens, Paris St German and Lyon.
And he has also shown his pedigree in working with and developing young talent and in his first spell as France’s technical director played a major role in them winning the 1998 World Cup.
Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “Two of the key qualities which we identified as being of crucial importance were experience of managing in the Premier League and a strategy for building on the existing strengths in our current squad.
“Gerard Houllier comfortably satisfies these criteria.
“In fact, he stands out as a football man who understands the ethos of our club and shares our core values.”
Faulkner has also urged the club’s supporters to give their backing to Houllier, who will take charge of Villa for the first time at Stoke on Monday.
He said: “We look forward to working with Gerard and supporting him. We ask our supporters to get behind the new manager and the team as we look to build on the progress we have made over the past four years in all areas of the club.”
Houllier’s second in command has still to be announced after his former Liverpool assistant, Phil Thompson, opted to remain as a pundit with Sky.
The role of caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald – currently reserve-team coach – has also to be finalised.
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