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Houllier: My players won Champs Lge for Liverpool

Gerard Houllier has begun his tenure at Aston Villa by claiming some of the credit for Liverpool's Champions League win over AC Milan in 2005.

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Houllier was replaced as manager of Liverpool 12 months earlier it was Rafael Benitez who was in charge of the team which won a fifth European Cup. But Houllier believes he was the catalyst for the success, a thought shared by the players in Istanbul.

Houllier told the News of the World: "At Liverpool, the chairman told me one day I had put the club into the 21st Century in terms of facilities, culture and training. We also finished fourth, third, second, fifth and fourth. My regret was not to win the league. That was too far for us.

"When Liverpool won the European Cup in Istanbul, I went into the changing room. It was an emotional moment but I sat shyly in the corner. Then all the players came to me to hug me and say 'This is your team. This is your team'. It was funny because until then I hadn't even noticed that, apart from two players, I had signed and worked with every player in that team.

"And if you say your other mission is to make progress with the players, I did that too. Michael Owen won the Ballon D'Or when I was Liverpool manager."

Houllier, who is expected to sign Michael Owen from Manchester United when the transfer window reopens in January, admits he has big shoes to fill after replacing Martin O'Neill last week - and that he always thought the change in manager would be in reverse at Liverpool.

"Martin O'Neill took Aston Villa to a high level and now we have to take it even higher," he said. "'Several times I thought Martin would succeed me at Liverpool. All I know is that he a great manager and brought up a good squad at Aston Villa. This is one of the reasons we have a good base to work from.

"It is difficult to succeed to him - but it is always difficult to succeed to anybody. When it is difficult, it is exciting. I trust the squad, I trust the players, I believe there is potential here to do something well. I know that Martin was nearly there. One player left (James Milner) but another one came (Stephen Ireland) who is quite skilful too.

"We will do our best to achieve what we want and more. It will take time but we know that. My philosophy is progress, performance, and pleasure.

"We know at some stage we need to improve the team gradually. But I don't think January is always a good period because you don't get the best (players) but we'll prepare for the future. I am quite happy with the squad. When people say Aston Villa is a good club, they also add that they have got good players. They must have because they finished in a Europa League position (sixth)."

Houllier, who will officially take charge at the end of this week, admitted he also had a thorough medical examination prior to accepting the Villa job, having had a heart-attack during his time at Anfield.

"You need to make sure your body is ready," he explained. "I have checked that. I am much healthier and fitter now than I was before."

Houllier also said he has no problems working with the players he has managed previously who are now key figures at the Midlands club. Defender Stephen Warnock and keeper Brad Friedel were with Houllier at Liverpool and striker John Carew at Lyon.

Houllier said: "Everybody thinks that when a player leaves a club, it means they are unhappy. At Jamie Carragher's testimonial last weekend, I came across a few players that had left during my time there at Liverpool. There was not a problem and there will be no problem with the people here. We can work together.

"Stephen Warnock was too young (at Liverpool). I read something about that but he was too young. Brad, I got on very well with. Don't forget Brad had to leave. Brad came with Roy Evans and had to leave at the end of the season because unfortunately we couldn't renew his work permit.

"That is why I think he went to Turkey and then came back to England. He is a good goalkeeper, very good. I'm not surprised at how well he's done because he was a good goalkeeper. and that comes with experience. As for John Carew, he is an outstanding talent. He is extremely skilful. He can win you a game in an instant. I like the man. It is not a problem.''

Houllier met the Villa players on Sunday before flying back home to tie up the loose ends with the French Football Federation. He will not be in charge of Monday's game at Stoke or next Saturday's home match with Bolton - although he hopes to attend.

Houllier is planning to be at the helm for the Carling Cup game with Blackburn on Wednesday week although he will be assisted by caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald.

He said: "I have to go back. I have a very important meeting Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Even if I wanted to take a private jet out (to the Stoke game) it wouldn't be possible. I apologise for that but I will be watching the game on television.

"If all goes to plan the Carling Cup match with be the first game I pick the team for. But I will do that with Kevin obviously. I think Kevin will stay alongside me (for that game).''


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