The big interview: Luis Garcia – "At Liverpool, I worked with a sports psychologist... to block out Jamie Carragher’s voice!"

Luis Garcia

Did his ghost goal really cross the line? What was a young Messi really like? And does he still enjoy a sangria now and then? Your questions answered in October 2017...

How special a place is La Masia, and did you grow up training with any youngsters who should have gone on to become big stars but didn’t?
Laura Ibanez, Brixton

It’s an incredible place. There was one player there in the under-18 team who, along with Xavi, trained with Louis van Gaal’s first team. His name was Mario Rosas and was only 16 years old, but he was seen as good enough to train with the first-team squad. He was small, just like Xavi, but a No.10. He was amazing: clever, brave, two-footed – he had it all. I’m not sure what happened to him. He went to Alaves and it didn’t quite work out. Bad luck and bad choices, I guess.

CLUBS

  • 1997-2002 Barcelona B; 1999-2000 Valladolid (loan); 2000 Toledo (loan); 2000-01 Tenerife (loan); 2001-02 Valladolid (loan); 2002-03 Atletico Madrid; 2003-04 Barcelona; 2004-07 Liverpool; 2007-09 Atletico Madrid; 2009-10 Racing Santander; 2010-11 Panathinaikos; 2011-12 Puebla; 2012-13 UNAM; 2014 Atletico Kolkata; 2016 Central Coast Mariners

What was it like playing alongside the great Argentine goalkeeper German Burgos during your time with Atletico Madrid? Was he as crazy as he seems?
Geoff Smith, via Facebook

He was absolutely mad. In training you couldn’t have a one-on-one with him as he would just kill you. He was so strong – if you ever tried to trick him and make him look foolish, he would come looking for you another time and really hurt you.

Were you in any way hesitant about returning to Barcelona when they activated your buy-back clause in 2003? Were you worried that you wouldn’t get regular games there?
Michael Holbrook, Reading

It wasn’t hard. It was the second time I had signed for them but it always felt like home to me. I am from Barcelona and so I wanted to be a success there.

A Dutch manager (Frank Rijkaard) and six players from the Netherlands were at the Camp Nou during that season. So can you do a good Dutch accent?
Janneke Versteeg, Utrecht

[Laughs] No, I can’t! Those Dutch guys were amazing. They all learnt to speak Spanish so fast. To be honest, that was a fantastic dressing room. I can’t say one bad word about any of those guys and I am still really good friends with Boudewijn Zenden and Patrick Kluivert.

Xavi and Andres Iniesta were young pros at the club that season. Could you get the ball off them in training?
Myles Shapcroft, York

I can say honestly that I never once got the ball off Xavi in training. Never. You could just see those two were destined to be greats. Not Carles Puyol, however. He was strong and worked really hard, but become a legend at Barcelona? No chance. He proved us all wrong, though.

I can say honestly that I never once got the ball off Xavi in training. Never

Did you get to see much of a young Lionel Messi when you were back at Barcelona? Was he getting attention from any of the first-team players?
Henry Hall, Islington

I didn’t have a clue. Yes, Messi was there but he was so quiet. I didn’t think about him and I certainly didn’t have any idea about how good he might be. I’ve got a photo of myself and a few players on a flight to Japan for a pre-season tour. Messi is at the back of the photograph because he had travelled with us from La Masia. He said very little back then. He’s gone on to do all right, I suppose!

You had already played under Rafael Benitez at Tenerife before he signed you for Liverpool. How did he sell the club to you, and did you express any doubts about moving to England?
Tag Ara, South London

I knew Rafa well from my time with him at Tenerife, but only really knew about Liverpool as they had beaten Barcelona and Alaves to win the UEFA Cup in 2001. Rafa phoned me up and, because I had played with him and liked him, I signed quite quickly. It was only after I arrived that it dawned on me how great a club it was, but that happened very quickly.

Benitez brought a few Spanish players to Liverpool – did you ever have any paella nights at each other’s houses?
Melissa Oncul, via Facebook

[Laughs] Yes, we did! It was helpful for us and our families to have a few other Spanish players around the place, but there were 16 different nationalities in that Liverpool squad at the time and we all very much mixed. I remember a Spanish restaurant opened up soon after I joined the club and the whole squad went there to have some tapas. The Spaniards were ordering food for players from Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, England, France and Finland. It was special, although Jamie Carragher left early to go and watch a game on telly. Typical Carra!

Referees in the Champions League would protect me, but then on the Saturday they wouldn’t and I had to adapt. During my first few games, I got elbowed in the face five times!

It seemed like you were more suited to playing in the Champions League than the Premier League for Liverpool – was there a specific reason for that?
Philip Santangeli, Liverpool

Personally, it took me a while to get used to English football and the physical side of the game. Referees in the Champions League would protect me, but then on the Saturday they wouldn’t and I had to adapt. During my first few games, I got elbowed in the face five times! In the Premier League I worked on avoiding contact, because when an opponent pushed me I was out of the game, so I trained hard to get away from the defenders. I was fast over five metres but not a lot more, so I’d use that to burst away from my marker. I think I got better, or at least cleverer, as my time went on.

Which was the better goal in the 2004/05 season? Steven Gerrard’s late clincher in the group stage decider against Olympiakos or yours against Juventus in the quarter-final?
Krystian Kriescher, via Facebook

It’s Stevie’s – without his, mine doesn’t happen! Also technically, mine was much easier. The ball sat up and I hit it nicely, but with Stevie’s he had to hit across the ball at an angle and did it perfectly – what a moment.

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