With the Champions League final on everyone’s minds, here’s The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) with his direction to take a step back and let the atmosphere sink in.
I still remember the 2005 Champions League final as if it were yesterday. It was, and remains one of, if not the greatest night in my humble existence to date. The match itself was an occasion that likely will never be equaled again. Dudek’s save, Djimi Traore, Vladi Smicer’s fairytale ending, Stevie G’s epic header and celebration… I get goosebumps just thinking about it! The reasons why it was so special to me have brought up all sorts of nostalgic feelings which I now will unashamedly share here.
It is difficult to fathom now but growing up as a Liverpool fan pre 2005 wasn’t the all conquering joy it was for the generation prior to me or even those who are been following since that incredible night in Istanbul. The 2005 final was our first European Cup final for 20 years. Not only that, but we had really only had one proper run at Europe’s greatest tournament in my childhood which was the valiant quarter final run in 2002. I had grown up reading the stories of the great Liverpool sides who were the best in Europe. I loved my Reds but most of the time I couldn’t have felt that we were further from even being mentioned among Europe’s great teams.
Every year I would watch the Champions League final on television. How distant we were from even entering the tournament, let alone winning it I rarely even dreamed that Liverpool would be there facing the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or even Valencia. Instead I was left sitting there angrily watching our bitter rivals Manchester United represent the Premier League on an almost yearly basis. That was the part that really stung.
No stranger to chaos.
I finally had a taster of European glory during our magical year in 2001 when we swept aside fairly sizable giants of the continental game in Olympiacos, Porto, Roma, and Barcelona (sense a pattern here?) before defeating Alaves 5-4 in a topsy-turvy final. Many of the Istanbul heroes were a huge part of that win including Vladimir Smicer, Sami Hyypia, Didi Hamann, Jamie Carragher and of course a young Steven Gerrard. I had a taster of European success and now I wanted more.
However, the reason why 2005 was particularly special is that I had waited so patiently for it to happen. In many ways the run was similar to this year. The group stages were perhaps a tad more dramatic, there were no need for Stevie G style heroics this season. The knockout rounds have been eerily similar though. Facing Porto in the last 16 was much like facing Leverkusen in 2005 as it was a tie that seemed winnable yet we were written off by many still. The quarter final was the same as we were huge underdogs to a top class Juventus side who like Manchester City this year were seen off mostly by a unexpected and devastating first half Anfield blitz.
What is different this year is my overall perspective on the final. Back in 2005 I remember being almost blind to the fact that AC Milan were an exceptional side with world class players all over the park. Realistically I should never even have thought we had a chance to win, let alone feel confident. I only saw that Stevie Gerrard was captain fantastic and he could (and did) lead us to anything he chose. I also didn’t really take the chance to soak it all in. We had found our way into the final far earlier than we really expected to be. I was caught up in a whirlwind and never really got the opportunity to take stock of the magnitude of what we had achieved.
In these situations, it is very easily to take the experience for granted. I didn’t just take 2005 for granted but the entire Rafa Benitez era. The period from 2005-2009 was a whirlwind of European excellence that I took as the new normal. The moment that happens we stop appreciating what is right in front of us. It is for this reason I have very little memories of the build up to the 2007 final. It is almost as if it never happened…
One of few
Yet there are many truly great teams that never get the opportunity to even take part in Champions League finals, let alone win one. Manchester City despite all the money in the world, and plenty of domestic success haven’t cracked the door to the big show open just yet. Arsenal qualified for the Champions League for two decades straight and reached just one final in that time and they haven’t sniffed another since that defeat in 2006. PSG also still haven’t experienced a final despite pumping astronomical money into player recruitment. And Spurs… well less said about them the better!
What I am trying to say is this week should be savored to the very maximum. Win or lose this is an occasion that we should enjoy. It has been an incredible journey so far. We have rapidly shifted from a team unbelievably happy just to be back in the tournament to potentially winning it. It is a privilege we have earned through slowly developing a style of football that few teams can handle on their day. We have managed this feat with a midfield trio who have been constantly told they aren’t good enough to compete with the best in the world. It is truly mind-blowing to think how far this team has come and yet when you really think about it, the pieces have been carefully put in place for the last couple of years. This turnaround in fortunes is no accident at all.
The time is NOW
This has all been accomplished through the guidance of our charismatic German boss Jurgen Klopp. My whole life I have always had favourite Liverpool players. From Robbie Fowler, to Steven Gerrard to Fernando Torres to Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson. I have always had my Liverpool heroes. I love this squad probably more player for player than any squad in my viewing history but beyond any doubt my favourite member of the club currently is Jurgen Klopp and that says it all. He is a special, special character and we are incredibly fortunate to have him.
There is a very good chance that this only the beginning for this talented group. We may well be entering another Rafa like inspired period of being a consistent member of European royalty. However, in football there are no guarantees so I know I am going to make the most of this one. I never imagined through the barren years from 2009 onwards that this would even be a possibility ever again, and yet here we are. We are being written off again by most and for good reason. Real Madrid have won 3 of the last 4 tournaments and are rightly huge favorites. They have superstars of world football in every position and another few saved for the bench. By all rights, Los Blancos should walk this final. Good for us that football isn’t played on paper and it certainly wasn’t back in 2005! They may have Ronaldo, Bale, Ramos, Isco, Kroos, Modric etc… but we got….
Salah….. OHHHHH Mané Mané and Bobby Firminooooooooo
Jordan Henderson, over to you and the lads. Bring on Saturday!