On the eve of a Champions League final, his soccer lover, and even more so when the contenders are two clubs he has played for, Real Madrid and Liverpoolthe heart of Fernando Morientes (Cilleros, Cáceres, 46 years old) accelerates more than normal and his brain does not stop feeding past memories that he manages as if they were occurring in the present because of how alive and real they appear to him.
The former player from Albacete, Zaragoza, Real Madrid, Monaco, Liverpool, Valencia and Olympique de Marseille, 18 seasons as a professional, is not among the privileged group of players with five finals in this competition (Van der Saar, Seedorf and Evrá) because he it was prevented by a UEFA regulation that today is no longer in force and that prohibited a player from playing the tournament with two different clubs.
Ronaldo’s arrival at Real Madrid (2002-03) aimed directly at Morientes’ waterline. He lost ownership and in the second season he decided to leave on loan to Monaco where he was not only a fixture for his now friend Didier Deschamps, but also played in the Champions League final against Porto (0-3). He returned to the Bernabéu, but the situation did not improve. Three miserable starts in the League (only one full game against Leganés) and none in the Champions League (six pieces as a substitute) convinced him that, of his present, then, and his future, they were out of Real Madrid .
The start was not bad: the Premier and a Liverpool coached by Rafa Benítez. And there he went. The rest is told in the first person.
Who was going to tell you that January 15, 2005 when you made your debut at Anfield with Liverpool that your team was going to win the Champions League and you were going to become a champion without a crown…
“Even though UEFA doesn’t tell me about it and I haven’t played by the rule that no longer exists, I feel like it’s mine.”
It was complicated, really. I remember that even then the players complained about the situation. We didn’t understand that because you played for one club you couldn’t do it for another if there was a case like mine in which you changed teams in the middle of the season. Without even imagining that Liverpool could win the Champions League, I remember that he always set an example. Let’s say we won it, then it turns out that I, who am a Liverpool player, am not European champion because I haven’t been able to play any game because of the rules, but if Real Madrid had won it, I could have been champion for the six games that He had played in the previous and in the group stage. Officially I couldn’t be champion with my current team but with the previous one… It was a total inconsistency.
Fortunately, he later won three Champions Leagues with Real Madrid and took personal revenge on the Istanbul team.
“Now it’s inevitable, but Liverpool was the team that never wanted Madrid to play”
The reality is that I have had a very special relationship with this competition. I won the 98, 2000 and 2002, the seventh, the eighth and the ninth. Three experiences of which I have very special memories because the circumstances of each one were different. For me, I also won the Liverpool one, the one in 2005. Although UEFA says no, I have it in the showcase and I consider it mine. I was one of the squad, I trained every day and I worked just like all my teammates. I also never forget the final with Monaco which, even if we lost to Porto, was a tremendous experience. Five finals, four titles, in a career of 18 years is not bad at all. I always think of those players who have played one or two and have lost them and I won four of five.
“As the competition progressed my frustration grew. The final was the worst: I felt more like a fan than a player”
How was the experience? I suppose that as much as he knew the situation before arriving in Liverpool, as he watched his team overcome the qualifiers, the demons would eat him up…
It was a strange experience to say the least. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to play in the Champions League, but I didn’t imagine that we were going to reach the final and win it like we did. As the qualifiers went by, my frustration grew. It was logical. He came from regularly playing that competition with Real Madrid and being an important player within the team. The previous year he had reached the final with Monaco…
Also, what qualifiers: Juventus who had eliminated Real Madrid, Chelsea… Milan in the final. What was your role in those games?
“My relationship with this competition is special. Five finals and four titles are not bad for 18 years as a professional”
Well, I did everything the same as my classmates except play. He didn’t travel to away games, until the final, of course. And at home he was one more. I listened to the coach’s talk, which used to be in Melwood, the Sports City, and then I went down in my car to Anfield like those who were not summoned. They got off the bus. Already in the stadium I lived in the locker room with my teammates those last minutes before jumping onto the field. Rafa gave the last indications of him. I listened, I looked at everyone with that frustration that grew at times more than anything because I saw that I couldn’t help them in these games that we all like to play. The atmosphere in those Champions duels was special. Anfield lives the European Cup in its own way. That reminds me of Real Madrid and more against those rivals. The locker room was small then and I always tried not to disturb them, not to distract them.
Do you remember any particularly particular moment when you felt worse…?
Not so much in the quarterfinals and semi-finals, because I had internalized it quite a bit, but on the day of the final I did have a bad time. I felt anger at not being able to experience it from within. The team traveled alone. I had to go on another plane with the uninvited and the relatives. We were in Istanbul in a different hotel. That cost me. I would have liked to be at least in it. Look closely at the companions. Listen to Rafa’s talk. I experienced it more as an amateur. How am I going to live this Paris.
In my time, Liverpool was a very familiar club, they lived from the present, but above all from their glorious past.”
But in that one he went with Liverpool and in this one he goes with Madrid.
Evidently. That was red and this I am white. I have a lot of love for Liverpool, I wish them the best before and after.
In those months of frustration in which only the Premier played, was Rafa Benítez looking out for you, giving you balls…?
We spoke of course, but more about the games, about my adaptation to a new football. An issue stuck with me. When we were going to face Juventus in the quarterfinals, before the first leg in Turin, I was at my house in Liverpool and the phone rang. It was already late. The Italians had eliminated Madrid in the round of 16 and he called me to ask me if I had kept something special from the Juventinos, something that would have caught my attention… That was Rafa. He had everything super prepared, but he wanted to know as many details as possible. At times I had the feeling that I was not enjoying those moments of glory. I was always thinking about what you could improve or what you could have done wrong. The day of the final I went over to congratulate him… and he started talking about the following year, about what he wanted from me… I was amazed, we had just won the Champions League and I was already thinking about next year. He was like that.
How is Liverpool inside? How was that year and a half at Anfield?
I follow it closely and I think that in recent years there have been many changes, it has grown noticeably. So it gave me the feeling of being a very familiar club. Very accessible to everyone. The greatness of the club was evident in the facilities, in the stadium, in how they made you part of their history. They share it with you and they want you to share it with them. They live in the present, but they also live a lot in the past. More than here. They are continually doing commemorative acts. Of the misfortunes suffered by his fans, such as Heysel or Hillsborough, but also of his successes, of his former coaches and former players.
It is a different liturgy from the Spanish.
Yes. I realized it already the first week of being there. We were playing against United and I soaked up what that game meant historically for the club and its supporters. And on top of that we lost (0-1). It can be perfectly compared to a Madrid-Barça. The club involves the players a lot. Every ten or fifteen days we all had to go to events together and always well dressed.
On the street, what does being a Liverpool player mean?
There is a lot of normality. It goes more unnoticed. The day of the match is when football is experienced with more intensity, when you approach the stadium, you see all the fans in the streets, with their beers… On a day-to-day basis, it had nothing to do with what I had experienced at Real Madrid. Maybe at other clubs it was more similar to Liverpool, but at Madrid I knew where you couldn’t go and people were more aware of you. In Liverpool you could go anywhere without feeling harassed, although the truth is that there weren’t many places then either. After being European capital of culture in 2008, the city has undergone a great change. How would it be then that we often went to Manchester for dinner or for a walk, because there was just the thing…
The final in Paris is approaching, act as an analyst and ‘undress’ this Liverpool that aspires to everything.
When the competition started I said that the team I didn’t want to see even in paint for Madrid was Liverpool. Now there is no more remedy. For me it is the most powerful. The strongest. More than Bayern, PSG, City… For Madrid’s conditions, it is the team that is the worst for him. It is a team that runs very well, that has very fast players up front and Madrid suffers a lot when they press up high and place the defense very far forward. As they don’t usually steal easily, because they are not a team made to press up and with spaces, Liverpool is the best in Europe. Before you had to be careful with three: Salah, Firmino and Mané, now there are also Jota and Luis Díaz. There are five forwards. He has a lot up, but let’s see him at fifty percent. I give you no more, no less.