STEVEN GERRARD is backing his former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier to be successful at Aston Villa after revealing he was “desperate” to return to the Barclays Premier League.
Houllier has finally been confirmed as Martin O’Neill’s successor after quitting as technical director of the French Football Federation.
He will be formally unveiled at a press conference today before taking charge for the first time in Monday’s league encounter at Stoke.
Houllier gave Gerrard his debut at Anfield more than a decade ago and the England skipper has nothing but praise for the Frenchman who spent six years on Merseyside.
“I’ve still got quite a close relationship with Gerard. He gave me my chance at the top level and I learnt an awful lot from him,’’ Gerrard said.
“Aston Villa have got themselves a very good manager and I am not surprised Gerard has come back into the Premier League. I know how much he loves football.
“He has been desperate to get back involved in the Premier League.”
The 30-year-old added: “It has been no surprise to me that Villa have been interested in him because he is a top manager.
“We had a magnificent year in 2001. He came in and had to change an awful lot of things at Liverpool and that is what he is good at.
“When he comes in, he knows what he wants, and he knows how to get a winning team. That showed by the five trophies we won under him.”
Houllier suffered with health problems during the latter part of his time with the Reds which led to his assistant, Phil Thompson, having a spell in charge of the team.
But Gerrard insisted: “I don’t think health is a problem for Gerard.
“I saw him a few days ago at the Jamie Carragher testimonial at Anfield and he looked superb.
“He looked really healthy and fresh. I asked him then if he was interested in Aston Villa and he said he was.
“I really don’t think the health will be a problem. I think he will be fine.”
Houllier is hoping to appoint one of his former Liverpool backroom staff – Patrice Bergues – at Villa Park.
Bergues also worked alongside Houllier at Lens and Lyon at club level as well as with the French Football Federation in the late 1990s.
Houllier had wanted to bring in Phil Thompson, his number two at Anfield as assistant-manager, but he has opted to remain in his role as a pundit with Sky Sports.
Before Monday’s game with Stoke Houllier will meet the players – including skipper Stiliyan Petrov, Luke Young and James Collins who all backed caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald to become new manager.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis believes Houllier has been “very fortunate” to inherit an Aston Villa side in good shape.
Villa have won two and lost one of their opening three matches, all since O’Neill’s shock resignation on the eve of the season kicking-off.
And Pulis believes Houllier will benefit from the hard work O’Neill did in assembling the squad.
“They are a good team. Martin did an amazing job at Villa and I was as surprised as anyone when he left,” said Pulis.
“But Gerard is experienced in the Premier League with Liverpool where he did a smashing job.
“I think he is walking into a football club which has top players and he has been very fortunate to get a great club.’’
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