Belfast Telegraph

Luis Garcia will break from UEFA license in Belfast to support Liverpool in Champions League final

 

On course: Luis Garcia, in his Irish FA training gear, as he works towards his coaching qualifications in Belfast
On course: Luis Garcia, in his Irish FA training gear, as he works towards his coaching qualifications in Belfast
You beauty:Luis Garcia lifts the Champions League trophy after Liverpool’s shootout win over AC Milan in 2005
Jurgen Klopp
Roberto Firmino

By Steven Beacom

Former Liverpool favourite Luis Garcia smiles at the thought.

Sitting in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Belfast on a lunch break from his Irish FA coaching course, the Spaniard beams when asked how much he would enjoy playing alongside Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Should Firmino recover from a muscle strain that kept him out of Liverpool's recent games, the Brazilian should be reunited with Salah and Mane to form a fab front three force for the Reds against Tottenham in Saturday's eagerly anticipated Champions League final.

Garcia knows all about the magnitude of the occasion. Been there, won that. He played 120 minutes in the 2005 Miracle of Istanbul when Liverpool came from a 3-0 interval deficit versus AC Milan to level in a staggering six-minute second half spell. The finest European Cup decider of them all finished 3-3 after extra-time before Jerzy Dudek's heroics in the penalty shoot-out saw Steven Gerrard lift the most coveted trophy in club football.

Garcia will be in Madrid to see if Jordan Henderson does the same. He'll leave Northern Ireland behind on Friday and return on Sunday to continue work on his coaching badges.

"It is very important for me to finish my licence so I will come back but I couldn't miss the final," says Garcia.

"I live in Madrid so I know how the atmosphere is going to be and it's Liverpool. I'm looking forward to it so much."

Garcia may not have scored the night Liverpool last won a Champions League final but he was the man who took them there with that famous and forever debated strike against Chelsea at Anfield in the semi - the 'ghost goal' as described by then Blues boss Jose Mourinho who felt the ball didn't cross the line.

The former Barcelona and Atletico Madrid playmaker has been down this road before but he's class and courtesy personified when recalling it once again.

"That was a great night. Every day in my life I'm asked about that goal and if it crossed the line. It was one of the best nights I had in my career and the atmosphere that Anfield created was amazing," he says.

"It is one of those special things that Liverpool have - at Anfield, as was shown when Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 to reach this year's final, anything can happen because the fans create an atmosphere that all the players feel, not just the home players but also the away players.

"I have such good memories because the goal that night took us through to the final and thankfully we went on to win the Champions League. The night and the game in Istanbul was just amazing. I will never forget it.

"My time at Liverpool means so much to me. I had the opportunity to join Liverpool back in 2004. We had a fantastic three years and they were the highlight of my career having the chance to win trophies.

"The connection that I had with the supporters was fantastic. They treated me like one of them and the club treated me like one of the family which I valued so much.

"I'm now proud to be ambassador of the club and I always try to do my best with that role because it is a way I can give back all the love they showed me when I was a player."

Garcia (40) talks with great affection about playing alongside Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and his old team-mates.

Bring up the modern day Liverpool side and there is just as much respect and appreciation.

"Who doesn't like watching the current team? They are a team that likes to go forward, they are attractive on the ball and are also intense," he says.

"Finishing with 97 points in the Premier League was incredible. I know it was not enough to win the trophy because Manchester City had one more but it was still a great season and there is a chance now to make it even better."

If Salah, Mane and Firmino click as they can those chances increase considerably. Quizzed on playing in the same side as them, Garcia declares: "I would love to because those players can play football.

"Definitely. They are all capable of making something happen out of nothing and are incredible to watch."

He's quick to add: "Liverpool do not only have great players in attack though. They are also good in the middle and the back. I think the team has a fantastic balance all over the pitch which is very important."

Garcia, who won 20 caps for Spain, hails manager Jurgen Klopp for that. He's also full of praise for Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino ahead of the weekend final.

"They have done a great job with their teams. They have built up their teams and you can see the difference from three years back until now," says Garcia.

"They made their teams play the way they wanted and they are two of the best managers in the world at this moment."

After epic semi-final successes for Liverpool and Spurs, it's hard to predict the drama sure to unfold in Madrid. The veteran of Istanbul is certain, however, of how he wants it to turn out.

He says: "The most important thing is for the players to fight for the result until the very last minute. I'm sure that Liverpool will have chances in the game and hopefully by the end they will win the trophy."

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