ANFIELD will remember Gerard Houllier tomorrow night before Liverpool’s match against Tottenham Hotspur. During the minute’s silence for the Frenchman, Jose Mourinho might feel a little shady. The Portuguese’s long feud with the Merseyside club started 16 years ago when his representative made a pitch for Houllier’s job.
The approach came hours before Mourinho announced himself on the English scene with his touchline celebration at Old Trafford after his Porto side’s last-minute equaliser eliminated Manchester United in the knockout round of the Champions League.
Porto went on to win the competition but even at the last-16 stage Mourinho knew he wanted to come to the Premier League. Liverpool, the club he admired while growing up, were his first choice. With Houllier’s time on Merseyside coming to an end, it was the obvious move. Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea had the money but Anfield had the heritage.
Jorge Baidek, Mourinho’s agent at the time, called Rick Parry and arranged to see him before Porto’s game against United. The chief executive believed the meeting was about transfers.
Baidek had been in discussions with Houllier about players. The Brazilian did not waste time with small talk. “Jose Mourinho would like to manage Liverpool,” he told Parry.
This gambit was not well-received. Deep down both Parry and Houllier knew that change was necessary and imminent but Liverpool prided themselves on doing business the right way.
The manager’s position would be assessed at the end of the season, not in early March. While the approach was flattering, it bothered Parry that someone involved in talks about transfers with the manager would be willing to go behind his back and agitate for the Frenchman to be replaced.
The bonds between the chief executive and Houllier were strong – and remained so until the 73-year-old’s death on Sunday. The men liked and respected each other. There was no possibility of Parry – who is now chairman of the English Football League – undermining his friend. The meeting ended amicably enough but doubts about Mourinho’s suitability were planted at Anfield.
The Porto manager underlined the reservations later in the day with his famous celebration at Old Trafford. When Costinha levelled the scores in the 90th minute to make it 1-1 on the night and 3-2 to the away side on aggregate, Mourinho stormed down the line and leapt in the air. There was no sympathy for United at the other end of the M62 but the ostentatious display of triumphalism triggered more alarm bells at Anfield. In a single day, Mourinho and his representatives combined to ensure that Merseyside was never going to be his next destination.
Baidek’s miscalculation rebounded badly. The 60-year-old has claimed that he reached agreement with Liverpool for Mourinho’s services but that suggestion is strongly denied by Parry. Chelsea had already decided to dispense with Claudio Ranieri and Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese superagent, was in discussions with Abramovich over Stamford Bridge’s next manager. Mendes approached Mourinho and set up the deal that would take the ‘Special One’ to west London. Baidek lost a client and Chelsea got their man.
Liverpool finished fourth at the end of the campaign but everyone around Anfield knew that Houllier’s tenure had come to an end. The former schoolteacher never completely recovered from life-saving heart surgery in 2001. The impact of his cardiac condition drained his energy. At a time when the man who helped build France’s World Cup-winning squad in 1998 should have been at the peak of his career, Houllier was unable to perform at the level he expected of himself. He left Liverpool – a club he first supported from the Kop while on a university exchange programme in the 1960s – in an air of sadness but accepted it was the correct course of action. Rafael Benitez replaced him and, in his first season at the helm, the Spaniard won the Champions League in Istanbul.
En route to that final against Milan, Benitez’s side beat Chelsea in the last four of the competition. The London club claimed the title but for the second time in two seasons Mourinho suffered at the hands of Liverpool. After the second leg of the semi-final – a tie played in one of the most frantic atmospheres ever seen at Anfield – the Portuguese stood on the pitch and stared at the Kop for a long time, perhaps wondering what it would be like to be the object of adulation from one of the most famous ends in football
Mourinho gained revenge a number of times, most famously in 2014 during his second spell at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea’s 2-0 win on Merseyside in the last week of the season ended Liverpool’s title challenge. He also put out feelers about the Anfield job on at least one other occasion.
He returns to L4 leading a Spurs team that are top of the league, separated by goal difference from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Mourinho will be bullish and unlikely to feel any regret about the events of 2004, even though the rejection changed the course of history.
One thing is for sure: he will show Houllier more respect tomorrow than his representatives gave to the Frenchman 16 years ago.