JAMIE CARRAGHER insists winning the treble under Gerard Houllier in 2001 was an even bigger achievement than lifting the European Cup in Istanbul four years later.
The Liverpool defender will have to sit out tonight’s clash against Houllier’s Aston Villa at Anfield as he recovers from surgery on his dislocated shoulder.
But Carragher believes everyone connected with the club owes a debt of gratitude to Houllier for helping to restore the Reds’ reputation on the continent.
Carragher was part of the 2001 UEFA Cup-winning side which followed triumphs in the finals of the League Cup and FA Cup.
“Gerard put us back on the map in Europe with that UEFA Cup run in 2001,” he said.
“He was also the first manager to get us into the Champions League.
“The treble in 2001 is definitely under-appreciated. That season was unbelievable. To win a trophy in a season is a great thing. To win three?
“It’s not just the finals. You’ve got the quarter-finals and the semi-finals – they’re all massive games. Everything is on a knife-edge. Lose one game and it all falls apart.
“The treble is actually a better achievement than Istanbul. Istanbul as a one off will never be beaten by anyone but someone wins the Champions League every year.
“To win three cup competitions in one season – that’s not something that happens very often, not just at Liverpool but anywhere.”
Carragher believes Houllier also deserves some praise for the Reds’ remarkable Champions League success under Rafa Benitez in 2005.
Some 12 of the 14 Liverpool players involved that night were signed or nurtured by the Frenchman, who was in Istanbul to share the triumph with them.
“Don’t get me wrong – the players and Rafa, it was our team,” Carragher added.
“But a lot of the players Gerard brought through played a major part in Istanbul. He’s got to take some of the credit.
“Whenever a manager leaves it’s because things haven’t gone too well towards the end – it was the same with Rafa Benitez.
“But what Gerard left was winners in the team. He didn’t inherit a team of winners.
“Even though the team wasn’t doing too well, there were players in the squad who knew how to win trophies.
“Myself, Sami (Hyypia), Stevie (Gerrard), Michael (Owen), Didi (Hamann), John Arne Riise. All these players had played in major finals. That made Rafa Benitez’s job a bit easier coming in – he had players who knew how to win.”
Carragher says Houllier also left a legacy in terms of eradicating the booze culture at Anfield and improving training facilities.
The centre-back, who recently clocked up his 650th appearance for the Reds, believes he wouldn’t still be playing without Houllier’s guidance.
“The club and the team he came to was maybe set in its ways from the old days; going out drinking and enjoying your wins,” he said.
“He certainly put a stop to that and he was certainly proved right by the success he had in his first few seasons.
“When we won the treble in 2001 – that’s when the penny finally dropped.
“After the FA Cup final, no one was allowed a drink even though we had won – and we went on to win the UEFA Cup final. These things make a difference.
“The fact I’m still playing now, and you look at Danny Murphy, Stevie, Michael Owen, (Emile) Heskey - all those players from back then are still playing around the 30 mark or over. A lot of that is down to the manager.
“It probably wouldn’t have been possible (to play 650 games) without the advice he gave me off the pitch.
“He’s someone who came in just after Arsene Wenger and revolutionised English football in terms of how we look after ourselves. He was the biggest influence on my career because of what I won with him, how he influenced me as a player and what he gave me off the pitch.”
Houllier’s progress at Anfield was halted by heart problems in October 2001. He rushed back five months later but couldn’t turn the Reds from challengers into champions.
In the last two years of his tenure his signings failed and he was sacked in May 2004 but Carragher insists he will get the warm reception he deserves at Anfied tonight.
“He came back too soon (after heart surgery),” Carragher said. “Obviously it didn’t help him that summer when he made certain decisions but for the first three or four years he was the best manager I’ve had.
“There were signings that didn’t work but look at Sami Hyypia – what a signing he was. Markus Babbel, Didi Hamann, Stephane Henchoz, Gary Mac – these signings.
“Look at what Heskey did in the treble season, the way he made me and Danny Murphy better players and brought Steven Gerrard through.”