A Quarter of a Century of Liverpool FC in the Premier League Era, 1992-2017, Part 8
It's Ours to Keep!
This instalment of this major series on Dynasty focuses on the Miracle of Istanbul, with Rafa Benitez’s remarkable Champions League win in 2005.
Originally a series of articles covering the period 1992 to Klopp’s arrival in 2017, it was written by TTT Subscriber Anthony Stanley, serialised on The Tomkins Times and then published by TTT as a book called A BANQUET WITHOUT WINE - A Quarter-Century of Liverpool FC in the Premier League Era.
The book is available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Banquet-Without-Wine-Quarter-Century-Liverpool/dp/1521850674. It remains a definitive matter of record of Liverpool FC during the period in question.
Rafa Benítez’s first season in English football will never be forgotten. It was the most miraculous of campaigns and the unlikeliest of stories. The surreal nature – the sheer insanity – of Liverpool’s European escapades was given a semblance of reality, a dose of verisimilitude, by the Reds consistently struggling in the league. Rafa had to learn the unique idiosyncrasies of the English domestic game but he was already a master in the continental arena, having secured the UEFA Cup with Valencia.
It began with hope; not that we would etch our name on ‘Oul Big Ears’ again – that could not have been further from our minds – but hope that, after stagnation, things were moving in the right direction. The Spanish manager, usurper of the La Liga duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, took over from a floundering Houllier, and Kopites greeted his appointment with huge optimism; we remembered his monolithic Valencia wiping the floor with us in recent seasons and we theoretically juxtaposed his achievements in Spain with what he could do to the heavy hitters of our league.
But before a ball was kicked, the Spaniard was under pressure. Our two English stars, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, were picturing greener pastures over the horizon. After some flirtation, Stevie eventually said no (or at least delayed a definitive rejection) to Russian millions and the wooing of a preening José Mourinho. Owen, however, with his contract running down, upped sticks to Real Madrid for a paltry £8.5 million, with Antonio Núñez arriving as a lightweight makeweight. He would not quicken Anfield pulses. Far more electric was the capture of Xabi Alonso (still this scribbler’s favourite Liverpool player) from Real Sociedad for £10.7 million. From the off, the midfielder showed himself to be an uber-controller of the tempo on a football field, a matador of the hurly burly with a divine touch and an even better brain. He was very much the general of Rafa’s team and would go on to be part of possibly Liverpool’s best ever modern midfield. Benítez also looked to his native country in signing Luis García and Josemi. The former would write himself into Red folklore with some stunning contributions to cup winning campaigns. Though he could frustrate, the little former Barcelona attacker had a heart (and a smile) as big as his diminutive frame and his name is still sung on the Kop. Josemi, after a decent start, faded rapidly.
A lot was expected from the other signing, a parting gift from Gérard Houllier. Djibril Cissé had been making waves in the French league for Auxerre (he had been recommended to Benítez while at Valencia and had apparently been told that securing the striker’s acquisition would win him La Liga). Cissé would prove to be underwhelming but started the campaign very promisingly before a horrific leg break at Blackburn curtailed his inaugural English season. A player of immense physical gifts, the then record signing unfortunately could not marry his athleticism with brain waves.
Besides Michael Owen departing the ranks, three other stalwarts from the treble season departed. Markus Babbel could not recapture his form or fitness following his battle with illness and was moved on to VFB Stuttgart on a free. Danny Murphy, perhaps prematurely, was told by Benítez that they had accepted a £2.5 million offer from Charlton Athletic and he was free to go. Finally, a fading Stéphane Henchoz left for Celtic, also on a free transfer. It really did feel like a changing of the guard.
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