MELBOURNE Victory today confirmed Adrian Leijer has been stripped of the skipper's armband and replaced by Socceroo Mark Milligan as club captain for next season.
Fast forward to just under a week later and Garcia touched down in Australia to officially renew his playing career. There was no period of rest for the veteran, however, as he was rushed into the squad for their clash against Western Sydney Wanderers. But things did not exactly go to plan. Garcia was only fit enough to start from the bench, but was brought on by Mariners coach Tony just before the hour-mark, with the side trailing 1-0.
Garcia’s entrance sparked a sense of urgency into the Mariners side, and within 10 minutes of coming on, Garcia had contributed towards Fabio Ferreira’s equalising goal. However, their momentum was crushed when Nick Montgomery was shown a straight red with just over 10 minutes to go. With a man less against their more fancied opponents, the Mariners struggled to hold on, and Wanderers’ super-sub Brendon Santalab popped up with a winning goal in the 88th minute of the match - a cruel end to Garcia’s start in Gosford.
“To have the jetlag and to have not even been here 48 hours I still enjoyed my first game in the A-League a lot,” he said. “I was tired and we had a man less, then we copped a second goal. So it was a shame for it to end like that. But I was really happy to have arrived and start my journey in Australia.”
Garcia arrived at the Mariners with the club sitting in bottom-place in the A-League table. Walmsley’s side had won just twice all season and were well on track to post their worst campaign record since the formation of the competition over a decade ago.
“I knew where I was going,” Garcia affirmed. “I knew the team was not doing well on the table, I knew there was a lot of young players in the team, and all of those things I took into consideration when I made my decision.
“The club is marvellous, too. It’s a small club with not much resources but it is incredibly well run and organised. Every person knows what they have to do, and they all help each other out along the way. And that is not an easy feat.”
“Living in Barcelona, and being at a club that was affiliated with them, it was always my dream [to play at the Camp Nou],” Garcia said. “When I got to the youth academy it’s when I began to think that maybe my future would be as a footballer player. But with everything we had there, it all comes down to you if you want to succeed.
“I was lucky to be playing alongside players like Xavi Hernandez, Gabri and [Carles] Puyol who all went on to make it to La Liga. But a lot of us who were in that U18 side did not make it to the big leagues. So it depends a lot in what you have in your head to deal with the good and the bad moments.”
Out of those stars that came through the Barcelona youth ranks alongside Garcia, it was definitely Xavi that he believes showed the most potential as a youngster. And after a 17-year career with the Catalan club, Xavi more than exceeded those expectations.
“With Xavi we knew that there was something special there. Even playing in the youth ranks, before he was in the senior team, you could see there was something there. You did not know if they were going to make it at Barcelona, but it was obvious they would be playing in La Liga. We all knew Xavi was good, but we did not realise he was going to be that good, looking now at where he was able to reach in his career.”
While Garcia was finding plenty of goals for Barcelona B, the forward went on loan to Valladolid where he did not enjoy much success. However, after a brief spell at Toledo, his next loan deal to Tenerife – which was coached by Rafa Benitez at the time – would prove to be one of the most telling of his career.
A 22-year-old Garcia would go on to score 16 league goals that season as Tenerife earned promotion to La Liga from the Segunda Division, and making a lasting impression on Benitez. Garcia returned to Barcelona, sent out for another loan spell to Valladolid, before he was picked up by Atletico Madrid for the 2002-03 season.
His form at the Vicente Calderon saw Barcelona buy him back, but even though he had his dream move and was finally playing first-team football for the club, an opportunity came up the following season that was too good to pass up.
“My dream was to go back to Barcelona [from Atletico]. It was the team that I had wanted to play for as a kid, and I had already spent three pre-seasons there as a youngster and I hadn’t played for the first team,” he said. “When I re-signed with the club, I signed for five years and my idea was to stay there for as long as possible. I was at home, with my family, with my friends, at one of the biggest clubs and I was playing. It was not in my mind to leave.
“Then I got a call from Benitez [at Liverpool], and that really made me think everything over. Do I go for this move, or do I stay at the club where I had worked so hard to get to? A move wasn’t on my mind.
“But Benitez taught me how to think a different way on the pitch, to approach things differently and play in a variety of positions. He did not only put me upfront but he put my on the wing and that opened up heaps of opportunities for me in the future.
“He called me and he said I had a big job to do at Liverpool. He had even called me the year before to get me to go to Valencia. And that’s important for a player, to see how much the manager wants you. It gives you confidence. Playing in England with one of the best teams and one of the best leagues in the world as well as the Champions League was too attractive to pass up.
“However, if I knew what the city was like before I signed I definitely would have taken more time to think it over,” he joked.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Liverpool's famous victory over AC Milan in the 2004-05 UEFA Champions League final ranks as possibly the greatest in the club's history – but Luis Garcia believes an achievement like that will never be repeated.
Rafael Benitez's side found themselves 3-0 down at half-time against one of the strongest Milan line-ups you can ever imagine. Paolo Maldini scored within the opening minute, before Hernan Crespo added two more just before the break. Things were grim for Liverpool, and not even the biggest die-hard supporters could imagine they would turn the game around. But that's exactly what happened.
Inspirational captain Steven Gerrard got things rolling with one of the best headers he will ever score in his career, before Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso pegged it back to 3-3 in a crazy six minutes of football.
Liverpool had somehow managed to take the game into extra-time, and then a penalty shoot-out, where Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko's spot-kick to complete the remarkable turnaround and hand Liverpool their fifth Champions League crown.
"It's so hard. I don’t think we will see it happen again," Garcia admitted. "We saw how Bayern lost the final in 1999 with two goals to Manchester United in the last minutes at the Camp Nou, and even something like that is almost impossible to repeat.
"Coming back from a 3-0 deficit is something that will take many, many years for us to see something close to it again. In a final, especially."
Not many players realise what they have achieved in the moment, but it took a lot longer than a few days for the extent of what Liverpool had just achieved to sink in for Garcia.
"In the moment you don't really understand and properly enjoy what you have achieved. In the coming days, your attention already turns to other things and you don't really have time to contemplate it," he said. "But later on you start to realise that there are only very few teams that can win a Champions League.
"Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid… there are only a few teams that can keep on winning the tournament. I think within the history of the Champions League only 500 players have won it. In the history, only 500 have won it.
"Milan have won a lot, Liverpool have won a lot, Real Madrid have won a lot. It always repeats. There are some exceptions, of course, but across history it has been a lot of the same players. When you start to think about that, you then start to realise how important it is to win one.
"Liverpool had gone 20 years without any Champions League success. They won the UEFA Cup in 2001, but even in terms of domestic success they had won nothing in many years.
"We weren't a team that people thought could ever win the Champions League."
THE PAIN OF SPAIN
Between 2008 and 2012 Spain were the most dominant force in world football, winning two European Championships either side of their first ever World Cup triumph. However, despite being a key figure for the national team, Luis Garcia just missed out on tasting any success with his nation. And to this day it is something he looks back upon with sadness.
Garcia made his debut for Spain in 2005 following some impressive form for Liverpool in the season they were crowned Champions League winners. He made his debut in a 3-0 friendly win against China, while he was a part of Spain's qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup.
It was in their World Cup play-off against Slovakia when Garcia scored his first international goal, before adding two other in a 5-1 rout. The second leg finished 1-1, meaning Spain advanced 6-2 on aggregate, with Garcia the hero.
That feat saw him included as part of Spain's squad for the tournament in Germany, making three appearances as the nation bowed out at the last-16 stage following a 3-1 loss to France.
Garcia stayed on in the national team beyond the World Cup, and made a number of appearances in the qualifiers for Euro 2008. However, Garcia never truly recovered from the anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended his time at Liverpool, and he is still saddened to have missed out on being part of Spain's dominant reign.
"The injury hurt me, a lot," he said. "I was in good form and everything was going great. I missed out on the Champions League final in Athens in 2007 against Milan again and that moment was difficult for me.
"I played some of the qualifiers but that's when the injury properly hurt me. I went back to Atletico Madrid and the national team coach [Luis Aragones] told me if I keep playing games I would continue to have chances to play for Spain. But another injury stopped me, and the quality in the team at that time was too hard to get in front of.
"I could not get back to the physical level that the national team demanded from me and it did not get me to the Euro's. I watched it on the TV, but I was still able to enjoy our success like a Spaniard."
Garcia believes Spain winning that tournament was the success they needed to finally break the barrier and be able to prove themselves as a dominant nation in European and world football.
"Ever since the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan Spain had showed that they were on the cusp of finally winning things. But before 2008 there was this click and even the supporters started to believe we could win something. It happened, and from Spain had the continuity and consistency within the squad to go on to greater things. And they did, and I really wish I could have been a part of it."
Before signing with the Mariners he was struggling to keep up with his appearances, signed on for a number of punditry gigs, playing games around the world for the Liverpool Legends and holding ambassador roles with the Reds as well as UEFA.
Garcia admits he is unsure if he will push on for one more season next year, with his increasingly busy schedule getting in the way of signing a longer-term deal. But if his body holds up and the Mariners are getting their money’s worth, there’s no reason why the club should not pursue the option of keeping him around next season onwards.