It’s not very often that you will a club engage two managers in the roles of joint managers. It is indeed a very rare occurrence. As it happens Liverpool embarked on such a revolutionary management structure. On this day 16th July 1998 we appointed Gerard Houllier to become one of our joint managers alongside current boss, Roy Evans. Many thought it was an odd appointment at the time. Some felt that it was a way in which not to remove Roy Evans directly. Would it be a matter of time before Evans, one member of the famous Liverpool Boot Room, felt as though he was undermined? Many fans thought this may well be the case.
Gerard Houllier joined Liverpool after a spell as manager of the French national side and French youth side.
As touched on above, it was a strange decision and in truth it didn’t work out at all. This type of partnership hadn’t proved particularly successful at other clubs either. Back in 1985 the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as the club’s first player-manager was a big surprise. This was an even bigger surprise.
Also, as mentioned, it was generally regarded as a demotion for Evans. In a way it was a statement by the club that they didn’t think he could manage the club on his own. And thinking about the logic of it all, Evans was really on a hiding to nothing.
If the club’s fortunes improved, it could be considered that it was because of Houllier’s arrival. If they didn’t, it could be claimed that there was so much to put right from the wrongs in place from the previous managerial structure.
There are so many tasks a football manager should carry out. As joint managers was it ever made clear as to who was responsible for what? What about team selection for instance? Who would have the final say?
Nobody seemed surprised at all by the arrival of a non-British manager. The English was going that way. Supporters were getting used to the arrival of foreign players and coaches. Another example of British clubs going French was Arsenal’s appointment of Arsene Wenger at Highbury. How many Arsenal fans had heard of Wenger before his appointment? The same could be said about Gerard Houllier.
Some fans may have recalled that he was in charge of the French national team when they failed to qualify for the finals of the 1994 World Cup in America.
Initially things seemed to be OK on the surface. But it didn’t take long for the first rumblings of discontent to be recognised. Liverpool had enjoyed a good start in their league campaign. Three wins and a draw from the opening four fixtures was a great return. But then the cracks started to appear in the next game. An away match with West Ham beckoned next.
Apparently there was a disagreement over whether Karl Heinze Riedle should start the game or not. One of the joint managers wanted to start him while the other wanted to rest him in readiness for the European match in midweek. Ultimately Riedle didn’t start the game. He did however come on as a substitute and he did score but the game was lost. Another thing that was probably lost that day was any early bond the two men had enjoyed after the Frenchman’s arrival to join the Englishman.
The End In Sight
The next three away matches in the league Liverpool struggled. Two defeats and a draw set alarm bells ringing. Not good at all. Even worse though was the fact that no goals had been scored by a Liverpool player either.
The fans were now starting to get a bit twitchy. True concerns had set in. The good start to the season seemed a distant memory and those foundations were not built on. League attendances at Anfield were still high but only 22,000 turned up to watch Fulham in the League cup towards the end of October. Even worse, less than 21,000 turned up for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur in the next round.
As it happened, Spurs were having a bad time themselves but even so they outplayed us and secured an emphatic 3-1 win. Liverpool’s only goal coming from a late Michael Owen goal as a consolation. This latest defeat came only 3 days after an unfancied Derby County side had also won a match at Anfield in the league. The rot had truly set in and the fans discontent at the end of the Spurs cup-tie was there for all to see and hear. Sadly, Roy Evans had had enough. By the time Leeds United came to Anfield the following weekend in November 1998, Gerard Houllier had now taken sole charge of team affairs. Still no respite though as Leeds also enjoyed a relatively easy 3-1 victory.
Joint managers have not been very successful at all. The idea certainly didn’t work out for Liverpool – particularly so for Roy Evans.