Exclusive: Luis Garcia Talks Champions League, Rafa and Returning to Liverpool

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2015

Former Liverpool player Luis Garcia waves to supporters before the team's English Premier League soccer match against Chelsea at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Sunday April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

For a Liverpool player, there’s no greater sign of acceptance than becoming the recipient of a rousing chant from The Kop. In recent years, the Reds’ faithful have dreamed of a team full of Carraghers, melodically explained how Steven Gerrard passes the ball 40 yards and asked John Arne Riise how he scored that goal

One of the more jovial chants, however, was assigned to Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia during his three seasons on Merseyside:

Luis Garcia, he drinks Sangria!
He came from Barca to Liverpool!
He's five-foot seven, he's football heaven!
So please don't take our Luis away!

“There was a great connection with the fans,” Garcia explains while walking through a network of passages that lead to the revered turf of the Maracana stadium in Rio De Janeiro, where Champions League sponsors Heineken are holding a special event.

“The chant they made for me was quite funny so they liked to sing it often. I suppose I made the connection with the fans because of what we achieved—they will always love a team that brings them the Champions League.”

Luis Enrique taking it easy at the Maracana
Luis Enrique taking it easy at the Maracana(Heineken)

Garcia, of course, is referring to the famous 2005 European campaign which culminated with a rather special night in Istanbul. The former Reds star discussed his part in Champions League history, his admiration of Liverpool and a potential return to the club in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report…

Bleacher Report: You won the 2005 Champions League in very dramatic fashion. What was it like in the dressing room at half time when you were 3-0 down?

Luis Garcia: It was quiet. Very quiet. Everyone was trying to come to terms with what had just happened. We had worked so hard all season to get to that game, particularly in the two weeks leading up to it, and it was all thrown away in 45 minutes. In our minds we were worried it was going to be the worst European Cup final performance ever, so we were all trying to focus our thoughts on good things.

B/R: Liverpool took four penalties that night in Istanbul. Who would have taken the fifth?

LG: Steven Gerrard.

B/R: And the sixth?

LG: That was me!

B/R: Did you volunteer to take one?

LG: Yes, I asked to be in the first five, but Rafa [Benitez] didn’t let me. He said I was too tired.

B/R: What’s your standout memory of that evening?

LG: Definitely the last penalty. When [Jerzy] Dudek stopped the ball, we all went crazy. We were so tired and the first 45 minutes had taken so much out of us, but we all sprinted half the length of the pitch in about three seconds!

DUSAN VRANIC/Associated Press

B/R: Was that the best moment of your career? Does anything else come close?

LG: The trophies are what the game is all about, so 2005 was probably the greatest moment. However, representing your country is the kind of thing you dream about as a kid, so playing in the 2006 World Cup was also very important for me.

B/R: How did you feel when Liverpool lost out to Milan in the Champions League final two years later?

LG: I think we played very well—perhaps even better than 2005—but football can be like that. We had a few chances at the end, but Milan were thinking about the previous final and it was their time.

B/R: Did you feel like you owed them one?

LG: [Laughs] I think they felt we did! It’s strange, no one really talks about that final, it’s like it never happened. It's very difficult to reach a game like that, but it’s amazing how easy we forget we were there.

B/R: Rafa Benitez signed you a few times during your career. What’s your relationship with him like?

LG: I signed for him at Tenerife and he wanted me to join him at Valencia, but I decided to go Atletico Madrid before he took me to Liverpool. He is the best manager I ever had in my career—he gave me the confidence to play and when things weren’t going so well, he gave me support I needed. Rafa knows what he wants and he always pushes you to give 100 per cent. That’s how we arrived at the 2005 final—we knew we didn’t have best team in that competition but he pushed us to deliver more than the sum of our parts.

DAVE THOMPSON/Associated Press

B/R: What kind of manager is he? Did he ever used to shout?

LG: No, he would never shout, he’s not that kind of manager. He talks to each player individually to let them know exactly what he needs from them, and as a result, everyone gives a little bit more. He always says the small details make a big difference, so he focuses on things like corners and throw-ins. When playing against big teams, it’s the small details that count.

B/R: People who have played for Liverpool say it’s a special club. What makes it so special?

LG: Anfield has the best atmosphere of any stadium I’ve played in. You have to be there to feel it. The people make you feel like you’re at home, they treat you like family. The people on the streets there take care of you, even when you come back years after playing.

B/R: Do you see yourself going back to Liverpool in any capacity?

LG: People have asked if I want to go back as a couch or scout or something else. I’ve been talking with the club recently about working with them. We will have to wait and see.

PAUL THOMAS/Associated Press

B/R: Do you fancy management?

LG: Not right now, I’m still thinking as a player. I am interested though, as it is important for a player to understand that side of the game.

B/R: What’s your opinion of Fernando Torres and how his performances have changed since you played with him at Atletico Madrid?

LG: At Atleti I saw "El Nino," a young and very talented player. He needed a change and made the right choice at the right time when he went to Liverpool. Not even he expected to do as well as he did at Anfield. The last two or three seasons were very hard for him; you could see he wasn’t completely fit or at his best with Chelsea or Milan. Since returning to Atleti, though, you can see his confidence is returning, and he’s enjoying himself. At the end of day, a player needs the confidence of the manager, the support of the fans and to enjoy the game. Now he has all of that.

B/R: Who is the best player you’ve ever worked with?

LG: It has to be Ronaldinho. In every training session he would produce something different; a piece of skill with a different part of his body. When he was together with Edgar Davids at Barca, it was amazing just to sit down and watch them.

RAMON ESPINOSA/Associated Press

B/R: Last season you played in the Indian Super League with Atletico Kolkata. How was that experience?

LG: I went over there without knowing too much about the culture—it really is a different world. I didn’t expect the people to be so passionate because it’s a country that loves cricket, but at our opening game we had 80,000 people in the stadium. The regular attendance was around 30,000-50,000, depending on the team.

B/R: What’s the standard of football like out there?

LG: To be honest it’s not really a professional football standard, it’s an amateur level. There are good players but the standard is… “medium.” This is because they don’t have academies facilities or coaches to teach them from a young age. Also, on the streets there you might see three boys playing football, but 100 playing cricket.

B/R: Will you go back to the ISL?

LG: I heard they want me to go back and I’d like to, but I have no offer yet. I’m just waiting.

B/R spoke with Luis Garcia at Heineken’s UEFA Champions League #ChampionTheMatch event. Follow #ChampionTheMatch with @Heineken on Twitter and Facebook during every UEFA Champions League match week. Join Heineken for Barcelona vs PSG and #ChampionTheMatch with Geremi Njitap.

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