But it’s not yet a done deal. Houllier is currently technical director for the French Football Federation, and FFF president Fernando Duchaussoy has stated publicly that he hopes the 63-year-old will remain in his present job.
Houllier, for his part, is probably in two minds over his career path. On the one hand, the French national team is in disarray and requires his expertise now more than ever. It would be quite the feather in his cap if he could help manager Laurent Blanc turn things around and get Les Bleus comfortably into the European Championship.
On the other hand, there’s never been a better time to jump ship, and Villa are offering a managerial job with a big, English club.
But does he want it? After quitting Olympique Lyonnais in 2007, Houllier said he needed a break from football management and has not coached a team at any level since. But that was three years ago, and the Villa gig would seem to be the perfect opportunity for him to get back into management.
That’s because Villa - with the exit of O’Neill and the current financial constraints - need Houllier more than he needs the club. And that should suit him to a tee. If he agrees to take the reigns at Villa Park, it will be with the understanding that he has complete control of the transfer strategy, and fans can expect a shakeup as a result.
That can only be a good thing. After joining Liverpool in 1998, Houllier offloaded a handful of big-name players, including Paul Ince, David James and Steve McManaman and bought the likes of Sami Hyypia, Dietmar Hamann and Vladimir Smicer-players who featured in the Reds’ Champions’ League triumph several years later. And while his Liverpool side never really challenged for Premier League honors, they were always a threat in the cups, and won six of them under his guidance.
A similar scenario would be ideal at Aston Villa, and is a realistic target for the next few years. The squad needs to be cleansed (I’m thinking of Emile Heskey, Nigel Reo Coker and, at some point, John Carew, among others) and bolstered at the same time. Houllier can do both, and he can put in a cup run or two to boot.
Give him a transfer window or two, and Houllier will quickly begin tweaking the squad. He’ll also utilize the free agent market and sell players to acquire others - the sort of outside-the-box thinking that was absent in the previous regime.
He might not stay long, but at this point in the club’s history, Houllier is exactly what Aston Villa need.