Luis García: Liverpool’s frustrating brilliance

Alex Caple

When Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005, virtually the entire team had played a significant role in one way or another. Most of the key individual performances came from dogged, defensive displays as Liverpool kept better teams at bay. Luis Garcia, however, was their wildcard spark.

Ask any Liverpool fan what they think of Luis Garcia and you can start a countdown until you hear the word ‘inconsistent’. And he was, undoubtedly. He’d do little to nothing more often than not, losing the ball while trying extravagant things, misplacing passes, wild shots that just weren’t on.

Garcia stood out like a sore thumb in a side that was built around being rigid and disciplined, although it did help to make him arguably the most charismatic player in the team to watch – other than Gerrard, of course.

That was why he was important, though. Liverpool didn’t have too much to shout about going forward that year – striking options of Milan Baros, Djibril Cissé, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor didn’t scream ‘Champions of Europe’ – and so their path to the final of the Champions League relied on creating something out of nothing. Fortunately, Garcia could do just that.

While he did offer up those moments in the Premier League, it was the Champions League where he came alive. The inconsistent flair player suddenly became a consistent match winner in the knockout stages – including a goal against Chelsea that definitely went in – and he was rightly included in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2005. Few players have been as vital in a Champions League campaign as Garcia that year.

Luis Garcia was born in Badalona, a city in the Catalonia region of Spain. At 12, he was brought into the youth academy of Barcelona, eventually making his debut for Barcelona B in 1997. Two years with Barca’s second team were followed by a series of loans, first with Real Valladolid in La Liga. After just six games there, Garcia was instead moved to CD Toledo in the Segunda Division where his 17 games ended in unfortunate relegation.

In 2000, Garcia went on loan to CD Tenerife, again in the Segunda, but it was a move that would sew the seeds for his later career. The new manager at Tenerife was former Real Madrid youth coach Rafa Benitez, and it was this year that Garcia would undergo something of a breakout season. The Catalan hit 16 goals as Tenerife finished third in the Segunda, earning promotion to La Liga.

Garcia went back to Valladolid for the 01/02 season, this time lasting the season and playing 25 La Liga games. Going back to his past would become something of a theme for Garcia’s career, but this would be the last of his loan moves. His performances that year attracted the attention of Atlético Madrid, and Barcelona sold him for €3.6 million.

Another good year, including nine La Liga goals, convinced Barcelona to change their minds. So, once again, Garcia was back in familiar territory.

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Garcia finally had his season at Barcelona; playing 25 La Liga games, Garcia scored four times as Barca finished second – behind Rafa Benitez’s Valencia.

Benitez left Valencia after that title victory following arguments with the club’s board. He had moved to Liverpool, and began his project there by signing several Spaniards. Once again, Garcia’s past was calling. His manager at Tenerife wanted him on Merseyside.

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Benitez immediately signed Garcia from Barcelona for £6m, also bringing in Xabi Alonso from Real Sociedad for £10m at the same time. The two of them would prove to be invaluable as Liverpool embarked on one of the most unforgettable seasons in their history.

Garcia, wearing the No.10 shirt vacated by Michael Owen, had a relatively quiet start to his time at Liverpool. Flashy and unique in the team, he was certainly an important player, but his impact in the first-half of the season was fairly muted in comparison to the second.

That year, of course, was less about the league and more about the Champions League for Liverpool, but Garcia’s impact on the competition also started slowly. He wouldn’t manage a single goal in the group stage as the Reds scraped through to the knockout stage thanks to Steven Gerrard’s famous goal.

Those knockout stages would be the making of Garcia’s legacy at Anfield. Liverpool were first drawn against Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans had topped a group featuring both Real Madrid and Roma, even convincingly beating Real 3-0 at home. Liverpool won both games 3-1, though, Garcia opening the scoring in the first-leg and adding another two in Germany.

Up next for Liverpool were Juventus. Juve had only conceded twice in their eight games so far, including beating both Ajax and Bayern Munich twice without conceding in any of the four games. They’d knocked out Real Madrid in their first knockout tie, and were overwhelming favourites against a Liverpool side that had already gone further than expected.

The first-leg was at Anfield, and within 25 minutes Liverpool had doubled Juventus’ goals conceded tally. The first came from a corner, finished brilliantly by Sami Hyypia, but the second was special. Again, Garcia had stepped up and Buffon had no chance.

Liverpool won the first-leg 2-1, and then proceeded to keep out Zlatan and the rest in the second-leg, drawing 0-0. It was the first of the three upsets, and Garcia had won it with his wonder goal.

Semi-final. Chelsea. Ghost Goal. It’s still talked about, but it definitely went in. Even if it didn’t go in, then Cech would have been sent-off and Liverpool given a penalty, but that doesn’t matter as it went in. Ref gave it and everything. Goal.

Could show the definite goal, but this is better.
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Chelsea had dominated the Premier League that year in Mourinho’s first season, and their Champions League campaign had thus far included knocking out both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Two, admittedly very drab, games followed. Liverpool one 1-0 over two-legs, an incredibly defensive display being settled by Garcia’s highly controversial ‘Ghost Goal’.

The legendary final against AC Milan proved to be quite quiet for Garcia – he wasn’t involved in any of the goals as Liverpool made their famous comeback, and he wasn’t one of Liverpool’s penalty takers. Still, he’d more than earned his medal. Liverpool wouldn’t have gotten near that final if not for Garcia’s incredible contributions.

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It was understandably the high point of Garcia’s career. He was awarded with a place in the 2005 UEFA Team of the Year, alongside the likes of Gerrard, Ronaldinho, and Pavel Nedved for his part in the Champions League victory.

His last two seasons at Liverpool didn’t reach quite the same heights, although he did grab another memorable goal against Chelsea to fire Liverpool into the FA Cup Final in 2006.

He’d miss the final through suspension, however.

Garcia tore his ACL in January of 2007 and wouldn’t play for Liverpool again. It was a sad end to such a charismatic player. Following his pattern, he left for somewhere from his past, rejoining Atletico Madrid that summer as Fernando Torres moved the other way.

He was mainly a squad player at Atletico, playing there for two seasons before playing at Racing Santander for a year. Then Garcia was heading to Greece with Panathinaikos. It was the start of a little world tour for the Spaniard. After Greece came Mexico with both Puebla and UNAM, then Aletico Kolkata of the Indian Super League (where Garcia would pick up a title), before finishing his career in Australia with the Central Coast Mariners.

But it’s Liverpool where Garcia is most fondly remembered. His time there was a mix of frustration and brilliance, and while he won’t ever be considered as one of the all time Liverpool greats, his impact in his first year, and the moments he provided, will be remembered for a long, long time to come.

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