Alex Manninger's experiences of meetings between Liverpool and Arsenal as part of the away team at Anfield are largely painful.
“There were always big disappointments for us,” the goalkeeper remembers of the three times he was stationed between the sticks, which were marked by as many defeats and 10 goals conceded.
Fast forward 5,916 days from the final runout - a 4-0 loss in December 2000 - and Manninger will be on the other side of the fence when Arsenal visit Anfield this Saturday tea-time, having returned to the Premier League last summer to take up a role with the Reds at the age of 39.
“We never picked up anything at Anfield,” the ’keeper recalls during a conversation with Liverpoolfc.com at Melwood ahead of an afternoon training session. “There was always a big rivalry with Arsenal and Liverpool. I even remember the FA Cup game in Cardiff when we were winning until the 80-something minute and then Owen scored twice...
“Bad memories, but also good memories. It’s not that you think only bad if you lose... I remember I saved a penalty once at Anfield, but we conceded [each time].
“Playing here was exceptional. They were great days. Liverpool had great players and with all the story behind the club and all that stuff, it was always a great game. You looked forward to it, even a couple of weeks before you’d be thinking, ‘The big one is coming up soon…’ and that’s no different now when these teams meet.
“It will be nice to see people again. It was good on the opening day of the season to see some of the old Arsenal staff again - the manager, the kit men and the physios. I still know them and it’ll be nice to still know them after the game with the same result we had in London.”
Football fans of a certain vintage will recall Manninger was unknown when Arsene Wenger moved to bring him to English football back in 1997, tying up a deal with AK Graz to provide cover for David Seaman.
But the stopper, then boyish-faced and floppy-haired, shot to prominence in his debut season in the Premier League when an injury to the Gunners’ regular first-choice thrust him into action.
He responded by belying his tender age, keeping six clean sheets in a row and saving a decisive penalty in an FA Cup semi-final shootout as Arsenal swept their way to the double.
Manninger would remain with the north Londoners until 2001, his place in their folklore confirmed.
Little wonder, then, he still holds Wenger in the highest esteem.
“It was 20 years back now, but he started to be a modern manager,” he says. “Now you’ve got more - you’ve got Klopp, Guardiola, Mourinho, the English lads, the German guys, the Spanish guys and Argentinian guys and you have the modern way of football in the whole of Europe now. But Wenger was the first one who changed the food, changed the way of playing... and he even tried to change the back four at Arsenal, which he eventually did over a period, but not straight away.
“He made the first steps towards modern football and I am proud to have been a part of this period, with technical players, responsible players, positioning, counter-attacks… You didn’t have 4-4-2 with no-one changing anything. We were a team who worked, whoever was on the pitch, and everyone knew what each other was doing, so it made things easier.
“Wenger started to change it around with the facilities and Arsenal’s training ground was one of the first really owned and thought-through ones, with all the pitches heated and a kitchen installed there. It was fantastic. They were the early days in modern football.”
Two decades on, football has evolved significantly and Manninger chats to Liverpoolfc.com in the recently refurbished, plush reception area of the complex in West Derby as he looks forward to welcoming his former team to his new home this weekend.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is his love for the game and eagerness to make a positive impact.
Pre-season friendlies aside, he hasn’t featured in any of the Reds’ games this term; his brief is one of passing on his vast experience - as well as supplying back-up - to Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius.
He will be at Anfield on Saturday, however, most likely found in the home changing room before kick-off providing encouragement, support and any titbits of information about opposing strikers he’s collated.
“It was my knowledge when I came here that I wouldn’t play every week,” said Manninger. “I knew the two young goalies were here and my job is to look after them to some point… in a different way to the coach, John Achterberg, or the manager Jürgen Klopp.
“They do the training and advise how they want the goalie to play and what they expect from a goalie. That is obviously a manager and coach’s work, but as a player I can offer a different perspective without thinking of them as competition. I can say I have been there before and I can talk to Simon or Loris differently than the manager can because I see them every day and am out on the training pitch with them each day.
“Hopefully, I can prepare them for a couple of things before they happen. So it is a nice position to be in, though obviously I want to be part of this team as well and I would like to have some minutes under my belt at some stage. It is not a competition thing or about knocking somebody off their chair, it is about helping the other ’keepers as part of the team.
"I believe in my position to try and help get the best out of the team."
“I am probably in a better position to do that than anyone else in the squad, to say, ‘Look, have you thought about doing this?’ or ‘Could you maybe do that?’
“Everything has changed a bit but of course I get flashes when I can say, ‘I’ve been there before nearly 20 years ago’. And, of course, I can give an idea of how they could do something because I would never ever say, ‘This is how you should do it’ because as I said before that is the manager or the coach’s job. But I can say, ‘Look, this happened, it will happen again but don’t worry’ or things like that. I think that is a healthy attitude.
“When I watch the games I sometimes see something and wonder if I can stimulate the team in a different way than another player who needs to concentrate on the 90 minutes. At the beginning I was involved on the bench but now I go into the changing rooms sometimes not even changed and we can talk differently as I’m not directly involved. It’s therefore not a question of someone thinking, ‘Oh, get your own game right before you think about others.’ So I can be open-minded and say, ‘Look, we trained well this week, let’s produce 90 minutes the way we trained’ and things like that. I can push in a different way than if I was playing.
“That is what makes me believe in my position and try to get the best out of the team, firstly with the goalies, of course, but then if I can help someone else such as a striker if I know the opposing goalie for instance, then hopefully that helps as well.
“I am probably the guy with the least expectation of playing week in, week out so I feel quite comfortable to be in that position but obviously I would be on my toes to play if something were to happen to the other goalies.”
Manninger signed a short-term deal with Liverpool when he jetted out to join them on their tour of the United States last July.
Interestingly, should he figure in the Premier League for the Reds, he’ll set a record for the longest gap between appearances in the division, with his last coming 16 years ago.
“That could be a target for me as well,” Manninger responds with a smile. “I have a few numbers I am happy with in my career so why not this one as well? I’m looking forward to hopefully making that happen.”
After departing Arsenal, initially for a loan stint with Fiorentina, Manninger competed in most of Europe’s top leagues, taking in La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A, where he won the league title with Juventus.
Prior to signing up with the Reds, he was at FC Augsburg for four seasons, keeping goal behind Ragnar Klavan.
So, a natural question springs to mind: How does Liverpool compare to his other teams and experiences?
“I think it is the peak of modern football,” is his near-instant response. “What we see, what we produce, what the manager is showing us and guiding us towards… it is an honour to still be involved in this kind of football.
“When I started as a professional footballer 22 years ago you wouldn’t even think of half the things that are part of modern football at a highly professional club. It is like a dream - a dream to be in a job as a professional footballer and then a dream to be working for someone called Liverpool Football Club. It is a club you would describe as a blue chip company and that makes me proud.
"Something is coming at Liverpool, I am convinced of it."
“Liverpool will always be a historical club but there have been difficulties too. Every club has them. I was at Juventus when we twice finished in seventh place and everyone was thinking, ‘What is this? This isn’t very Juventus-like.’ But this is the way it happens in football.
“But the club is prepared for the next step and I truly believe the question now is only when that will be because I think with these characters in charge of the club and the experience of well-organised people, it’s a question of when not if this club will lift silverware again.
“Of course there is pressure but a football pressure because you want to perform. There is pressure everywhere in life but in football, because it is a game, you need pressure to be up for it. But if you lose a game somewhere else they would often say, ‘Oh, all is gone, the whole season is rubbish.’ Here, it is more a case of saying: ‘Yes, we lost. It’s a bad result but this team is growing.’ In my opinion, something more is coming at Liverpool in the next few years. I am convinced of that.”
One large reason for such conviction is the leadership of Jürgen Klopp, Manninger explains.
“He is perfectly suited to this club. The way he is - modern and open. He is straightforward. If we lose, we lost because... If we win, we won because... It is not like [he blames] other teams, referees or players, and that’s the way I like. It’s straightforward.
“It’s not always nice to hear, but this makes things easier when you don’t need to hide things.
“Here, you don’t have this rivalry negatively. You’ve got competition, but it’s positive and that’s what the gaffer is looking after. That’s what I like to see.
“I’m a player who has been in a lot of changing rooms and here you can see a healthy group and that’s what makes me really, really excited for the next months and years.
“Something will come here, I am sure. Something will come.”
You can read more from Alex Manninger in Saturday's official matchday programme and the monthly LFC Magazine. Click here for details and to subscribe.
‘Behind the Badge’ is a regular feature on Liverpoolfc.com which aims to tell the individual stories of the numerous men and women who work tirelessly away from the spotlight in an attempt to make Liverpool FC successful.
Over the course of the season, we’ll be speaking to various members of staff across the first-team, Academy and Ladies set-ups who dedicate their lives to the club each and every day, covering a variety of different roles that make a vital contribution in preparing the Reds for action.