One-on-one: Luis Garcia


FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view Leo Moyni­han Pho­tog­ra­phy Paul Cooper

They cer­tainly enjoy a late night out in Spain. Head to any plaza at 10pm and you’ll see fam­i­lies step­ping over al­ready par­a­lytic English tourists for an evening of food and mer­ri­ment.

So FFT thought lit­tle of it when Luis Garcia asked to meet in a Liver­pool ho­tel at 10.30pm. Af­ter all, this was a man who not only played 20 times for his coun­try, but also pulled on the fa­mous shirts of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Liver­pool and per­formed a key role in one of the most fa­mous vic­to­ries in Champions League his­tory. Of course we would hap­pily oblige.

With that 2004-05 sea­son in mind, and as we walked to­ward Liver­pool’s Stan­ley Dock notic­ing a near-full moon haunt­ingly re­flect­ing off the black River Mersey, we pon­dered if meet­ing so late had more sin­is­ter con­no­ta­tions.

For all of his other tri­umphs, Garcia is most fa­mous for that goal, that ghost goal. Goose­bumps raised, our minds started to wan­der. Was Jose Mour­inho right? Luis liked to play in the hole, but was that ac­tu­ally a hole in the ground? Was his de­sire to con­gre­gate af­ter dark more su­per­nat­u­ral than cul­tural?

And then sud­denly, as the witch­ing hour ap­proached, a grin­ning Garcia ap­peared from nowhere. Shivers ran down our spine, but bravely we got on with ask­ing him your ques­tions… How spe­cial a place is La Ma­sia, and did you grow up train­ing with any young­sters who should have gone on to be­come big stars but didn’t? Laura Ibanez, Brix­ton It’s an in­cred­i­ble place. There was one player there in the un­der-18 team who, along with Xavi, trained with Louis van Gaal’s first team. His name was Mario Rosas and was only 16 years old, but he was seen as good enough to train with the first team squad. He was small, just like Xavi, but a No.10. He was amaz­ing: clever, brave, two-footed – he had it all. I’m not sure what hap­pened to him. He went to Alaves and it didn’t quite work out. Bad luck and bad choices, I guess.

What was it like play­ing along­side the great Ar­gen­tine goal­keeper Ger­man Bur­gos dur­ing your time with Atletico Madrid? Was he as crazy as he seems? Ge­off Smith, via Face­book He was ab­so­lutely mad. In train­ing you couldn’t have a one-on-one with him as he would just kill you. He was so strong – if you ever tried to trick him and make him look fool­ish, he would come look­ing for you an­other time and really hurt you.

Were you in any way hes­i­tant about re­turn­ing to Barcelona when they ac­ti­vated your buy-back clause in 2003? Were you wor­ried that you wouldn’t get reg­u­lar games there? Michael Hol­brook, Read­ing It wasn’t hard. It was the sec­ond time I had signed for them but it always felt like home to me. I am from Barcelona and so I wanted to be a suc­cess there. A Dutch man­ager (Frank Ri­jkaard) and six play­ers from the Nether­lands were at the Camp Nou dur­ing that sea­son. So can you do a good Dutch ac­cent? Jan­neke Ver­steeg, Utrecht [Laughs] No, I can’t! Those Dutch guys were amaz­ing. They all learnt to speak Span­ish so fast. To be hon­est, that was a fan­tas­tic dress­ing room. I can’t say one bad word about any of those guys and I am still really good friends with Boudewijn Zen­den and Pa­trick Kluiv­ert.

Xavi and An­dres Ini­esta were young pros at the club that sea­son. Could you get the ball off them in train­ing? Myles Shapcroft, York I can say hon­estly that I never once got the ball off Xavi in train­ing. Never. You could just see those two were des­tined to be greats. Not Car­les Puyol, how­ever. He was strong and worked really hard, but be­come a legend at Barcelona? No chance. He proved us all wrong, though.

Did you get to see much of a young Lionel Messi when you were back at Barcelona? Was he get­ting at­ten­tion from any of the first-team play­ers? Henry Hall, Is­ling­ton I didn’t have a clue. Yes, Messi was there but he was so quiet. I didn’t think about him and I cer­tainly didn’t have any idea about how good he might be. I’ve got a photo of my­self and a few play­ers on a flight to Ja­pan for a pre-sea­son tour. Messi is at the back of the pho­to­graph be­cause he had trav­elled with us from La Ma­sia. He said very lit­tle back then. He’s gone on to do all right, I sup­pose!

You had al­ready played un­der Rafael Ben­itez at Tener­ife be­fore he signed you for Liver­pool. How did he sell the club to you, and did you ex­press any doubts about mov­ing to Eng­land? Tag Ara, South Lon­don I knew Rafa well from my time with him at Tener­ife, but only really knew about Liver­pool as they had beaten Barcelona and Alaves to win the UEFA Cup in 2001. Rafa phoned me up and, be­cause I had played with him and liked him, I signed quite quickly. It was only af­ter I ar­rived that it dawned on me how great a club it was, but that hap­pened very quickly.

Ben­itez brought a few Span­ish play­ers to Liver­pool – did you ever have any paella nights at each other’s houses? Melissa On­cul, via Face­book [Laughs] Yes, we did! It was help­ful for us and our fam­i­lies to have a few other Span­ish play­ers around the place, but there were 16 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties in that Liver­pool squad at the time and we all very much mixed. I re­mem­ber a Span­ish restau­rant opened up soon af­ter I joined the club and the whole squad went there to have some tapas. The Spa­niards were or­der­ing food for play­ers from Nor­way, Poland, Czech Repub­lic, Aus­tralia, Eng­land, France and Fin­land. It was spe­cial, al­though Jamie Carragher left early to go and watch a game on telly. Typ­i­cal Carra! It seemed like you were more suited to play­ing in the Champions League than the Premier League for Liver­pool – was there a spe­cific rea­son for that? Philip San­tan­geli, Liver­pool Per­son­ally, it took me a while to get used to English foot­ball and the phys­i­cal side of the game. Ref­er­ees in the Champions League would pro­tect me, but then on the Satur­day they wouldn’t and I had to adapt. Dur­ing my first few games, I got el­bowed in the face five times! In the Premier League I worked on avoid­ing con­tact, be­cause when an op­po­nent pushed me I was out of the game, so I trained hard to get away from the de­fend­ers. I was fast over five me­tres but not a lot more, so I’d use that to burst away from my marker. I think I got bet­ter, or at least clev­erer, as my time went on.

Which was the bet­ter goal in the 2004-05 sea­son? Steven Ger­rard’s late clincher in the group stage de­cider against Olympia­cos or yours against Ju­ven­tus in the quar­ter-fi­nal? Krys­tian Kri­escher, via Face­book It’s Stevie’s – with­out his, mine doesn’t hap­pen! Also tech­ni­cally, mine was much eas­ier. The ball sat up and I hit it nicely, but with Stevie’s he had to hit across the ball at an an­gle and did it per­fectly – what a mo­ment.

Do you think the noise at An­field got to Chelsea’s play­ers dur­ing the 2005 Champions League semi-fi­nal sec­ond leg? They looked really rat­tled by it… Den­nis Mon­aghan, Crewe I don’t know about that, but I had never, and still have never, been part of an at­mos­phere like that one. Chelsea were a bet­ter side than us over the whole sea­son, but on that night we were much faster, stronger and hun­grier than them, and that all came from the fans. You could feel the power of the peo­ple.

Be hon­est. Did you run off cel­e­brat­ing that goal (top) to con­vince the of­fi­cials to give it? If so, then it worked! Martin Rich­mond, via Face­book No, I didn’t. I had the best view of any­one and I cel­e­brated the goal be­cause I truly be­lieve that I saw the ball go over the line. It all hap­pened so quickly but look at my move­ment when I hit the shot, and also as Chelsea try to clear the ball. It’s nat­u­ral be­cause I saw what I saw, and that was the ball cross­ing the line. Is Jose Mour­inho a friend of yours and have you ever spo­ken to him about the ghost goal? I bet he’s still seething! Joe Mal­lalieu, Manch­ester He is. I knew him well from Barcelona and he tried to sign me when he went to Porto. Af­ter that semi-fi­nal he came up to me and wished me luck for the fi­nal. I have so much re­spect for him, as I saw how hard he worked to get to where he is now. He’ll always deny my goal, but if I was him I’d do the same.

Do you be­lieve in ghosts? Ed­ward Pat­ter­son, Lon­don Not any more! There is no such thing.

The Luis Garcia chant claims that you are 5ft 7in (and foot­ball heaven), but Wikipedia tells us you’re ac­tu­ally 5ft 9in. Were you of­fended that fans were claim­ing you were two inches shorter? Eva Sisask, Es­to­nia Yes, they all got my height wrong! I love this song, though, and hear­ing it makes me so happy. That’s some­thing I really love about English foot­ball – the chants that all the play­ers get. They still sing it to­day too, which is very spe­cial for me.

And do you really drink Sangria? Beth Lowen, Ring­wood Of course I drink it. I enjoy Guin­ness as well. I like to put some peaches into my Sangria. Lovely fresh peaches, though,

not tinned! The se­cret is to put the fruit in with the wine and then let it sit for 24 hours. The sugar and the al­co­hol mix and it gives it that spe­cial taste.

What did Jamie Carragher say when he first saw you wear­ing a hair band? JJ O’rourke, Liver­pool He didn’t need to say any­thing be­cause his ex­pres­sion just screamed, ‘What the f**k?’ Rafa wasn’t too happy ei­ther. One day there was my­self, Harry Kewell and Mi­lan Baros all stand­ing in front of the mir­ror, putting on our hair bands. Baros was us­ing hair­spray as well! That didn’t go down well ei­ther, with Carra or Rafa.

Were you sur­prised when you looked at the team-sheet in Is­tan­bul and there was no Didi Ha­mann on it? Andy Can­talion, Guild­ford No, be­cause I knew Rafa would always have his rea­sons. Rafa had sur­prised us a few times that sea­son, even leav­ing Stevie out once or twice. Yes, this was the Champions League fi­nal, but Rafa was so switched on and always do­ing his home­work, so you saw the line-up and just got on with things. I think he looked at Cafu at right-back for Mi­lan and thought that Kewell could oc­cupy him. Harry was un­lucky. I worked with a lot of top play­ers and, on a tech­ni­cal level, he was one of the best I ever saw. That night it didn’t work out for Harry, but Ha­mann was so pro­fes­sional that he didn’t sulk. In­stead he came on at half-time and helped us turn it around.

Cafu has since ad­mit­ted that he and his team-mates were cel­e­brat­ing at half-time in Is­tan­bul. Would you have done the same thing in their po­si­tion? Ryan Dun­phy, Nor­wood We only saw the Mi­lan play­ers walk­ing out of the dress­ing room at the start of the sec­ond half look­ing happy, but who wouldn’t? You can’t blame them for that – they were 3-0 up with 45 min­utes left to play. I would be pretty happy too in that sit­u­a­tion. They were all really happy and we were frus­trated. But then when we were walk­ing out we could hear the Liver­pool fans singing, de­spite how bad it had been going on the pitch. It made you think, ‘Come on, let’s try our hard­est to get some­thing, or any­thing, from the match in the next 45 min­utes. And let’s cer­tainly not get ab­so­lutely slaugh­tered!’

It’s the sec­ond half at the Ataturk Sta­dium. Steven Ger­rard scores and then Vladimir Smicer grabs an­other one – 3-2, so what are you think­ing? Ben Valuks, Lon­don Wow! Let’s just keep going. The sec­ond goal came so soon af­ter the first one that sud­denly you think, ‘This might be pos­si­ble.’ Sud­denly we had some hope. I looked around and saw these great Mi­lan play­ers, but I had hope. I won’t lie and say I saw in their eyes that they were gone, be­cause they were too good for that, but what I felt was a pos­i­tiv­ity from us and I knew that we were good enough to be here and still win it. To be hon­est, beat­ing Juve [in the quar­ters] was the one for me that sea­son. They had a side with [Pavel] Nedved, [Lil­ian] Thu­ram, [Alessan­dro] Del Piero, [Zla­tan] Ibrahi­movic and [Mauro] Camoranesi. We’d al­ready beaten them – now we were back in it and could beat Mi­lan.

Why didn’t you take a penalty in the shootout? Did you want to take one? Brian Mclaugh­lin, New York They wouldn’t let me take a penalty! I wanted to take one but Rafa had got other ideas. I think I would have been the sixth had it gone to sud­den death.

Who got the most drunk af­ter­wards? Nick Ker­wick, Liver­pool I can’t re­mem­ber! [Laughs]

Af­ter clash­ing with Hay­den Mullins at West Ham in 2006, you were sent off and sus­pended for the FA Cup Fi­nal – how gut­ted were you to miss that? Richard Pear­son, via Twit­ter I was so up­set. I had been sent off and was still in the shower when Pepe Reina came in and said I would be banned for the fi­nal. I just couldn’t be­lieve it. I had scored a great goal against Chelsea in the semi-fi­nal and was look­ing for­ward to the fi­nal, but I was out. Look­ing back now, it was my fault. I was held by their player, caught him with my el­bow and when he pushed me I fell to the floor a bit too the­atri­cally. If I had just stood up we might have been booked, but we were both sent off in­stead. The moral of the story, chil­dren, is don’t over­re­act!

You went back to Atletico in 2007 – did you leave Liver­pool too soon? Char­lie Par­ish, Kent I loved it there but had I stayed I might not have the great re­la­tion­ship with the fans that I enjoy now. I have no re­grets.

You played with a young Fer­nando Tor­res dur­ing your first spell with Atletico, and a young Ser­gio Aguero dur­ing your sec­ond. Who was bet­ter, and did you have any idea how good the pair would go on to be­come? Harry Prescott, Twick­en­ham They are both so dif­fer­ent, but yes you could see both were going to be top play­ers. Fer­nando had this in­cred­i­ble pace, while Ser­gio is so strong and so de­ter­mined. So South Amer­i­can! Just don’t make me choose between them.

You once told Four­fourtwo that you didn’t know what a bowl of Scouse was – is that still the case to­day? Kevin O’rourke, An­field I’ve still never had it. Is it nice? I did get to like black pud­ding while liv­ing there.

Do you have a favourite Liver­pool pub from your time on Mersey­side? Paul Min­ney, Knowsley Vil­lage We never got to go to lo­cal pubs while play­ing but I have since dis­cov­ered the King Charles, which is a nice, small pub in An­field. The Church by the ground is also great. Both of them sell Guin­ness. Which tele­vi­sion show did you enjoy the most when you lived in Eng­land? Andy Kirby, via Twit­ter Oh, I used to love that show... the guy with the beard who pre­sented it. What was his name? [FFT: Noel Ed­monds on Deal or No Deal?] Yes that’s him! He was very good. Yeah, that was my favourite.

Who would make the bet­ter gaffer: Carragher or Ger­rard (be­low, left)? Daniel Drake, via Face­book [Puffs cheeks] They are ac­tu­ally very dif­fer­ent. [Takes his time] Carra would make a great man­ager in Italy, while Stevie would be bet­ter in the Premier League. Carra would give me a lot of in­struc­tion out on the pitch. I used to mut­ter “f**k off” un­der my breath when he yelled at me! [Laughs] Ac­tu­ally, I had to work with a sports psychologist to help me focus while I was at Liver­pool and one of the things we worked on was trying to block out Carragher’s voice! I’d still lis­ten to him, but soon I didn’t get as dis­tracted by it.

The Span­ish team be­gan to dom­i­nate shortly af­ter your in­ter­na­tional ca­reer came to an end. Did you re­alise that they were on the verge of some­thing truly spe­cial, and how loved are that gen­er­a­tion of play­ers at home now? Stephen Dowsett, Lon­don Foot­ball has got a short mem­ory, but this group of play­ers will be talked about for many years to come. This was the best group that Spain has ever seen, and as they mainly came from the two big teams – Madrid and Barcelona – the whole coun­try was to­gether. It was spe­cial. I had played in the qual­i­fy­ing games for the 2008 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship and you could sense the team were about to do some­thing really big. In Spain they are hugely loved and rightly so.

What is your sig­na­ture tune on the gui­tar, and who is the best gui­tarist that’s ever lived? Tony Dunk­ley, Sid­cup If I had my gui­tar with me right now I would play you Noth­ing Else Mat­ters by Me­tal­lica. Who is the best gui­tar player ever? That is really hard, but I do love Slash from Guns N’ Roses.

You scored on your Pue­bla de­but with a Pa­nenka penalty. Was that your first ever at­tempt at one? Isn’t that a risky tac­tic on your de­but? Levi Na­then­son, Ibiza No, as I had done the same to score my first ever goal in Spain, too. I loved a Pa­nenka. I think I would have at­tempted one in Is­tan­bul in 2005 if I had been al­lowed to take a penalty!

Did you drive around Kolkata at all af­ter join­ing Atletico in 2014, and how much did you like the foot­ball? Teddy Davies, Hong Kong Drive a car in Kolkata? Are you mad? No, I didn’t. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence to go and play in In­dia. We would get 80,000 crowds there and they would cel­e­brate ev­ery­thing – even the other team going close to scor­ing. Fire­works were going off even when our op­po­nents got cor­ners – crazy.

You played in both In­dia and Aus­tralia at the tail end of your foot­ball ca­reer. Do you think the chances of the game grow­ing in de­vel­op­ing leagues could be af­fected by the huge sums of money that Chi­nese Su­per League clubs are spend­ing? Grace O’don­nell, via Face­book It is hard to say. They’re pay­ing play­ers a hell of a lot of money to sign, but had I been of­fered that sort of cash to go over there and play, then of course I might have ac­cepted it. I don’t know what all the mo­tives are be­hind the Chi­nese teams that are pay­ing so much. Is it to get the global at­ten­tion? Maybe. I’m not sure it’s going to make Chi­nese foot­ball bet­ter, as you have to de­velop youth to do that. Time will tell, but for now I do worry about de­vel­op­ing leagues, as it’s very hard to com­pete with those wages.

I hear you love golf, Luis, so would you choose to score one more goal at the Kop end, or get a hole-in-one? Ge­orge Elder, Brom­ley Oh one more goal, no doubt. I like golf, and a hole-in-one would be nice, but put me in front of those fans and let me score. Just don’t men­tion ghosts!

Clock­wise from top left Garcia’s ghost goal seals the Reds’ spot in Is­tan­bul; clash­ing with ex-liver­pool man Bjorn Tore Kvarme in Atletico Madrid’s colours; “Can I have my hair band back now, Rafa?”; Garcia’s the­atri­cal fall cost him an FA Cup fi­nal...

Far left “Who drunk the most af­ter­wards? I can’t re­mem­ber!” Left Garcia savoured more suc­cess with Atletico de Kolkata in 2014... Be­low­fore a stint Down Un­der with Cen­tral Coast Mariners

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