FeatureMy Liverpool Story… with Luis Garcia
As part of the 'My Liverpool Story' series on Liverpoolfc.com, Luis Garcia tells the tale of his Reds career in his own words…
Pride and honour are two words I often use to describe my time at Liverpool FC.
To pull on that red shirt and walk in to Anfield… I will do my best, but I don’t think any words that I write here will do justice to what you feel inside.
I was talking about it with some friends the other day, about listening to You’ll Never Walk Alone as the players enter the pitch, hearing the crowd sing, shout and roar the team on. It is something every Liverpool fan should experience at least once in their life – to do that as a player was a privilege.
I am proud to be part of the history of the club, I feel part of the red family, and to say that you must feel like you are at home, which is how I feel whenever I am back in Liverpool.
It’s funny how things come about. I was very happy at Barcelona in the summer of 2004, I’m a supporter and followed them as a kid, but when Rafael Benitez called me, it felt like it was an opportunity I could not turn down. It was honestly the quickest move I made in my career.
He was my mentor at Tenerife where I had been on loan previously, and I knew what he had achieved as a coach and the way he worked. He had tried to take me to Valencia the year before too, but it didn’t work out.
There was something building at Liverpool, though, there were some great players arriving – Xabi Alonso among them, who signed on the same day as me – and after speaking to my family, we were suddenly on a flight to Liverpool and it was all a bit of a blur.
Moving to England was a big shock. My English wasn’t very good at the time, and Scouse isn’t the easiest accent to understand!
I realised pretty quickly that it was going to be tough to communicate even during my medical when I couldn’t answer any questions. That still makes me laugh now when I think back.
Rafa was very insistent that in the dressing room we all spoke English to each other, so I knew I had to adapt quickly, and it was the most important thing for me. It really helped on the pitch because I could understand what was happening and it helped me as a player too learning and developing alongside some fantastic teammates.
People always tell you that English football is tougher, faster and more physical, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for what was to come in my first few weeks.
After I signed, I think it took two games for me to need some painkillers, which tells you it was a totally different kind of football compared to Spain. I knew Liverpool beforehand too, and I knew their story, but I’m not sure I was prepared for the size of the club I was coming in to either.
I made my debut against Bolton – that goal should’ve counted, by the way! – and afterwards I was walking around the streets and everyone was saying hello, even Evertonians. I never had any trouble with their supporters, even though I scored against them twice! I really loved that rivalry as a player.
My first season was like a dream. I scored 13 goals, with five coming in our amazing run in Europe. As a group I don’t think we ever thought we would have the chance to win the Champions League. Maybe it was that naivety that helped us, but we were just playing to compete in every game.
I know that everyone probably says the same and that football is game by game, but it really was that way. We approached every competition the same. We struggled for consistency in the Premier League, but in Europe we found our place; approaching every match like it was our last.
We knew we were a strong team because as a unit we had some fantastic talent, but I think our core strength was that we worked hard and that was from when we played the likes of Olympiacos in the group right up to the final against AC Milan.
It was a hard road, and sometimes bumpy, but we enjoyed where it took us. I can replay my goal against Chelsea in the semi-final in my head – or ghost goal, I guess that depends on who you ask!
I always felt a lot of my goals were about arriving in the right moment and that was definitely one of them. I knew there was something happening, and you have to remember there were a lot of nerves because of the occasion for both teams.
I’ve seen the goal so many times but the noise that night was truly something special. I’ve had people tell me they still think it’s one of the loudest Anfield full-time roars, but I can’t even remember because I just started running around the pitch like crazy; we knew no-one could take us away from the final.
Everyone knows what happened next – I don’t need to tell you that. It’s written in history and the celebrations will stay with us all forever. It’s funny because in the actual dressing room afterwards we were so exhausted, almost in disbelief at what we had achieved. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and it just completely drained us all.
I remember at the end I was just jumping, singing, screaming and hugging everyone in sight. Fans were throwing hats and scarves at us. You grow up as a kid dreaming of winning trophies and being in a Champions League final. To arrive there with Liverpool, you have to remember that it is not a club from my country, but that day I felt Scouse. We were in Turkey, miles away from the city, but I felt home and that is something incredible. I think that’s also why I played some of the best football of my career at Liverpool.
We won the Champions League and later the FA Cup – unfortunately I missed the final, which is something that I still regret. That was a difficult experience for me but if you’re intelligent you learn from your mistakes, and I made a pretty big one getting sent off in the build-up to that game.
I scored in the semi-final, though, and it was against Chelsea again. So that is a memory I can look back on proudly. When I do talks now and clinics with young kids I always refer to that experience. You can never lose your cool. It was very out of character for me.
I like to think that the supporters knew my first condition was that I always gave 100 per cent because that’s how I saw football. Of all the things I achieved in my career, having a song written about me is still my favourite, there just isn’t a better way to show love to a player than that.
Oh, and I do drink sangria, in case you were wondering...
Injuries never come in the right moment and I think it was probably the best period of my career when I hurt my knee in 2007. I’d scored 11 goals the previous season and already had six that year and was feeling good, I had the experience of the Premier League and World Cup with Spain behind me too.
The first few months were extremely tough as I was away from the team back home in Barcelona doing double sessions every day and trying everything in my power to come back.
I remember I even convinced myself I might be able to play in the Champions League final when we got there again at the end of that season. Of course it was never possible.
That summer I left after three amazing years at Liverpool and who knows what could’ve happened if I’d have stayed longer. It is easy to point to hindsight but you’re not feeling what you were at the time. I had to make a decision for my family and myself. I moved a lot in my career, and I don’t regret any of them for that reason.
The history of Liverpool is still in me and always will be. The values and principles I picked up at the club will forever live on and I am proud to now be an ambassador for this great club.
No matter what, I will always try to give back however I can to the supporters all over the world for what they have given me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay that, but I will always try my best.
I can’t wait to see you all at Anfield again very soon.
All the best,
Luis was speaking to Liverpoolfc.com’s Joe Urquhart