90′s Time Tunnel: Stephane Henchoz

July 8, 2012 in Features, Premier League

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In this weekend’s 90′s time tunnel - we have a Swiss colossus who made his mark on the Premier League in the late nineties, but became an infamous figure in the Houllier era at Liverpool Football Club. This week, we are looking at Stephane Henchoz.

He began his career in his native Switzerland, at Neuchatal Xamax. He had quite an eventful start to his career, playing at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid at just 17 years of age in 1991. He played 91 times before German side Hamburg came in for him, and he had a difficult two years in the Bundesliga. He is a man who is not afraid of speaking his mind, and spoke of how he and his teammates suffered because of coach Felix Magath’s intense training schedules. Manchester United came in for him in 1997, but talks hit a snag over his fitness after an injury. Where United stuttered, Blackburn, led by his old Xamax and Switzerland boss Roy Hodgson, pounced and snapped him up for £3 million.

He was a key player for Blackburn, only missing six games in two seasons for Rovers, as they struggled to maintain their title-winning form, finishing sixth in his first season and getting relegated the season after. He was voted ‘player of the season’ by the supporters in his second term, which is funny that a defender of a relegated club is the player of the year. Surely if he was player of the year, he’d have kept them up by you know…stopping goals going in?

But anyway.

Gerard Houllier activated a relegation clause in Henchoz’s contract to bring him to Anfield for £3.5 million in 1999. Many an eyebrow was raised when he was signed, why would Houllier want a defender that had just been relegated to the old division 1? But it turned out to be an inspired signing, as he complemented fellow centre back Sami Hyppia perfectly. He mopped up where Sami was lacking, an excellent man-marker and he had a superb read of the game. This gave Liverpool a formidable back line in an era where Houllier looked to bring the glory days back to Liverpool Football Club. Whilst they never won the big one, he was a big part of the treble that they won in 2001. I say a big part, he was the hand that lead to Birmingham equalizing in the 90th minute in the League Cup Final (Liverpool eventually won of penalties) and used his digits to stop Theirry Henry in the FA Cup Final, which Liverpool also won. It gained him the nickname ‘Handchoz’ - not nice to gain a nickname from blatant cheating, but you get what you’re given.

In 2002, the Liverpool resurgence went off the boil, and Stephane suffered a number of injuries so couldn’t be that defensive constant that he once was. When your back-up to the rock-solid Henchoz is Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan, it’s not surprise that Liverpool went off the rails. He occasionally played at right-back and did make a season’s return to the centre of defence, helping Liverpool to 4th place.

Once Houllier was replaced by Rafael Benitez, his days were numbered. He preferred Carragher at the centre of the back four, so Henchoz moved to Celtic in January of 2005, but struggled for fitness and only played six times for the club. Newly promoted Wigan then came to his rescue and he joined them for the 2005/2006 season. He played 26 times for the club, even starting their League Cup final loss against Manchester United.

He then went back to where it all began for him in England, signing on for his second spell at Blackburn Rovers. He was used a stop-gap solution for injuries, playing twelve times in two years - before Mark Hughes released him in 2008. He then announced his retirement from football in the same year and is still working for his coaching badges.

He also played 72 times for his home country, playing in both Euro 96 and Euro 2004 - but retired from international football in 2006.

So there you have it, A Swiss colossus, a great defender, a well-travelled man - you could say his career ran like clockwork.