Former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock has revealed he was originally told he would be on the bench for the 2005 Champions League final, only to find out there had been a mistake on the squad list.
Warnock, who had made 30 appearances across all competitions in the 2004/05 campaign including six in the Champions League, says his “opinion of the club changed” after the Istanbul final, and not just because he was left out of the squad.
A Liverpool player since his youth days, Warnock told Goal he was initially thrilled to be included in the Champions League Final squad. But that joy soon turned to despair when he was told there had been an error.
“I was supposed to be in the squad,” Warnock said. “The squad used to be put up on the board at Melwood, a squad of 18, and a couple of days before Istanbul the squad went up and I’m on the list.
“I’ve never got changed so quickly in my life! I got a shower, got in the car and was on the phone to everyone telling them: ‘I’m going to Istanbul, in the squad for a Champions League final!’ I was over the moon.
“Then about two hours later I get a phone call from Pako [Ayestaran, assistant manager to Rafa Benitez] saying they’d made a mistake on the list, and that Josemi was in instead of me. I couldn’t believe it.”
The 36-year-old, who has now retired from playing, also revealed it was not the first time Benitez had changed his mind late on about including Warnock in a matchday squad.
He said: “The worst thing for me was it had happened before, earlier in the season. We had been due to play Tottenham at Anfield and I was not on the squad list. I was due to report for training on the Saturday and I went out for a mate’s birthday on the Friday night.
“I got to Melwood, put my boots on to train and the squad arrived for their pre-match walk. Rafa says: ‘What are you doing?’ I told him I was training and he told me I was starting against Tottenham!
“I had to tell him I’d been out the previous night and he kicked off at me, saying I was unprofessional. We had a disagreement and I ended up on the bench against Tottenham. So for the same situation to arise with Istanbul, but obviously in a far bigger game, was so frustrating.”
What’s more, Warnock was also denied a place on the open top bus that the players occupied to parade the Champions League trophy upon their arrival back in Liverpool, as he had flown back on a separate plane to the starters and their families.
“That was unforgivable,” Warnock added. “I can remember watching it on Sky Sports News and thinking: ‘What’s going on?!’ A couple of lads did their own thing, got taxis and caught up to the bus and got on, but the rest of us just went home. We got a half-hearted ‘sorry’ when we went back to training after the summer and that was it.
“For me, that night spelt the end of my career at Liverpool, because of the way I was treated. It changed my opinion of the club because there are a host of people who could have handled things better. We may not have played, but we were part of that squad and should have been treated as such.
“For Rafa, during that season it was all about ‘the squad’ and everyone was in it together. Then after Istanbul, it became almost as if those 18 players had won the Champions League alone. When really others had played their part. Mellor had, Pongolle had, Le Tallec had, Scott Carson had.
“It wasn’t just me who felt that way. I know Neil Mellor and Sinama-Pongolle felt the same. It’s sad that a night like that can be tainted over something that could have been handled much better.”
Liverpool will play their first Champions League game of the season against Paris Saint-Germain next week after Saturday’s Premier League trip to Tottenham.