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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Houllier exits Liverpool
Gerard Houllier
Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has parted company with the club.

The Reds directors ended Houllier's six-year reign even though he met their target of a Champions League place.

"I'd rather have stayed as manager but I leave on good terms with everybody. I may have left Liverpool, but Liverpool will not leave me," said Houllier.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry said: "The board decided change was necessary if we were to realistically challenge for the title next season."

Charlton's Alan Curbishley and Rafael Benitez of Valencia are favourites to take over from Houllier.

But BBC Sport understands Celtic's Martin O'Neill is not among the frontrunners to succeed the Frenchman.

Liverpool meant six years of happiness of me. The team and I have had a great relationship
Gerard Houllier
Liverpool's late run to grab fourth place in the Premiership - and the final Champions League spot - was not enough to save Houllier.

"Gerard has accepted this with typical good grace," added Parry.

"We have always said we would review our position at the end of the season and that is what we have now done.

"Although we have reached the Champions League that is a minimum standard and not a goal."

Houllier's exit adds to the uncertainty caused by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra trying to buy into the club.

Thaksin is due to fly to England shortly to continue negotiations over a 60m bid for 30% of the Anfield club.

The Thai PM became the sole bidder after the Liverpool board blocked millionaire Liverpool fan Steve Morgan's attempt to plough 73m into the club.

Morgan had been a fierce critic of Houllier, however, and the pressure he put on the board cannot have helped the Frenchman's cause.

LIVERPOOL MANAGERIAL ODDS
7/4: Rafael Benitez
3/1: Martin O'Neill
4/1: Alan Curbishley
5/1: Gordon Strachan
6/1: Jose Mourinho
7/1: Steve McClaren
Odds supplied by Ladbrokes
Houllier, a former France coach and technical director of the French Football Federation, moved to Liverpool as joint-manager alongside Roy Evans in July 1998.

By November 1998 Evans had gone, leaving Houllier in sole charge, and in 2000-2001 he enjoyed his best campaign - winning the Uefa Cup, FA Cup, Worthington Cup and European Super Cup.

In 2001 Houllier had major surgery after a heart attack - which began speculation about his future - but he silenced the doubters in 2002-2003 by winning the League Cup again.

However, pressure on the manager grew again this season with Liverpool never likely to challenge the top three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Houllier said his fondest memories included the 2001 FA Cup and Uefa Cup triumphs over Arsenal and Alaves respectively, and the fans' tribute at Anfield when he was recovering from heart surgery.

"I arrived here six years ago as a Liverpool supporter and I leave as an even bigger supporter," he told the club website.

"I will return to watch the team as a fan."

The search for his successor will begin immediately, with Curbishley and Benitez the two leading names, although O'Neill and Jose Mourinho of Porto have also been tipped.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Gerard Houllier
"The club is in my heart"


Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry
"It's a day for dignity and respect"





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