Football News

Xabi Alonso: Champions League ‘miracle’ got Liverpool back where they belong

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:25, 16 February 2022

Former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso believes their 2005 Champions League win helped put the club back where it belonged at the top of European football.

Liverpool went into the 2004/05 campaign four-time winners of the Champions League/European Cup but they hadn’t won the trophy in 21 years and had faltered in the preceding seasons. In 2002/03 they were knocked out of the first group stage, finishing third behind Valencia and Basel to drop down to the UEFA Cup where they lost to Celtic in the quarter-finals. And a year later they weren’t in the Champions League at all after a fifth-placed finish in the 2002/03 Premier League, losing to fourth-placed Chelsea on the final day.

But finishing fourth at the end of that 2003/04 season, Gerard Houllier’s final campaign, was the start of Liverpool’s return. That summer, Rafael Benitez took over and was joined by fellow Spaniards Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Fernando Morientes, Josemi and Antonio Nunez across the campaign – the former two would later play a big part in a bit of Liverpool history.

Fast forward to May, it had been an underwhelming season domestically for Liverpool, finishing fifth in the Premier League behind rivals Everton and losing the League Cup final after extra-time. The season rested on the Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul but even that looked to be past them at half-time with the Reds 3-0.

Of course, we all know what happened in the second half as Liverpool brought it back to 3-3 before winning on penalties. And Alonso has revealed the thought of letting Liverpool fans down helped change the mentality and was a catalyst for the miracle.

“I think that for sure it was halftime [when the mentality changed], it came at the right time for us because we needed to refresh, we needed to think about wasting the beautiful chance that we had to play the UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul in front of so many amazing supporters, and we couldn’t let them down,” he said.

“That’s why something happened at halftime. Rafa made some changes, but it was then we started to think that we had to fight at least [in the game]. The first half was not good enough.

“That’s football. Sometimes, miracles happen, and that night was an unbelievable miracle.

“It was unforgettable for so many football fans and we could make a great comeback against a top, top Milan team. Luckily, we got the trophy. From then, everything was history.”

The 2004/05 Champions League win, Liverpool’s fifth of the competition meaning they got to keep the Big-Eared trophy, started a good run for the Reds which saw them reach the final once again in 2006/07 as well as two more runs at least to the quarter-finals.

The third-most successful team in Champions League history, Liverpool were back where they belong according to Alonso.

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“Liverpool had always a great history, it was the British team with the most European Cups, we had four at that moment,” he added.

“But, after so many years without competing at the highest level, we felt that it was it was going to take time to get there again. That was the challenge the ambition of the whole team. But being that quick being in the first season of Rafa’s big project, it gave us a great belief in ourselves.

“Two years later, we played again in the final and lost, but knew that we were there and brought Liverpool back where it belonged after many years.”

But Liverpool would drop away from the Champions League glory chase after their quarter-final exit in 2008/09 as Benitez’s time at the club started to run down. In 2009/10, Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and finished seventh in the Premier League, starting their exile from Europe’s premier club competition.

Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, Liverpool had just one campaign in the Champions League with yet another group stage exit and were instead regulars in the Europa League – though they also had two seasons without European football altogether.

It wasn’t until Jurgen Klopp arrived and started to make his mark on the club that Liverpool returned to, as Alonso would say, where they belonged. A fourth-placed finish in Klopp’s first full season at Anfield saw Liverpool return to the Champions League for the 2017/18 campaign and they went so close to announcing their comeback with Number Six.

Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos had other ideas but Liverpool wouldn’t have to wait too long for their next opportunity, reaching the final once again in 2018/19 where they beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 to be crowned Champions of Europe for the sixth time, closing the gap on AC Milan as the second-most successful side in the competition’s history.

Two underwhelming seasons have followed in the Champions League, by Liverpool’s now-high standards, but the Reds look a fearsome prospect this year, finishing top of their group with a perfect record – six games, six wins. They are truly back where they belong.

Xabi Alonso was speaking on behalf of FedEx, proud sponsors of the UEFA Champions League.

How well do you remember the 2005 Champions League final?