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

Luis Garcia

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.

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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.

Do you think the noise at Anfield got to Chelsea’s players during the 2005 Champions League semi-final second leg? They looked really rattled by it…
Dennis Monaghan, Crewe

I don’t know about that, but I had never – and still have never – been part of an atmosphere like that one. Chelsea were a better side than us over the whole season, but on that night we were much faster, stronger and hungrier than them, and that all came from the fans. You could feel the power of the people.

Be honest. Did you run off celebrating that goal (top) to convince the officials to give it? If so, then it worked!
Martin Richmond, via Facebook

No, I didn’t. I had the best view of anyone and I celebrated the goal because I truly believe that I saw the ball go over the line. It all happened so quickly but look at my movement when I hit the shot, and also as Chelsea try to clear the ball. It’s natural because I saw what I saw, and that was the ball crossing the line.

Is Jose Mourinho a friend of yours, and have you ever spoken to him about the ghost goal? I bet he’s still seething!
Joe Mallalieu, Manchester

He is. I knew him well from Barcelona and he tried to sign me when he went to Porto. After that semi-final he came up to me and wished me luck for the final. I have so much respect for him, as I saw how hard he worked to get to where he is now. He’ll always deny my goal, but if I was him I’d do the same.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Edward Patterson, London

Not any more! There is no such thing.

The Luis Garcia chant claims that you are 5ft 7in (and football heaven), but Wikipedia tells us you’re actually 5ft 9in. Were you offended that fans were claiming you were two inches shorter?
Eva Sisask, Estonia

Yes, they all got my height wrong! I love this song, though, and hearing it makes me so happy. That’s something I really love about English football – the chants that all the players get. They still sing it today too, which is very special for me.

And do you really drink Sangria?
Beth Lowen, Ringwood

Of course I drink it. I enjoy Guinness as well. I like to put some peaches into my Sangria. Lovely fresh peaches, though, not tinned. The secret is to put the fruit in with the wine and then let it sit for 24 hours. The sugar and the alcohol mix and it gives it that special taste.

What did Jamie Carragher say when he first saw you wearing a hair band?
JJ O’Rourke, Liverpool

He didn’t need to say anything because his expression just screamed, ‘What the f**k?’ Rafa wasn’t too happy either. One day there was myself, Harry Kewell and Milan Baros all standing in front of the mirror, putting on our hair bands. Baros was using hairspray as well! That didn’t go down well either, with Carra or Rafa.  

Were you surprised when you looked at the team-sheet in Istanbul and there was no Didi Hamann on it?
Andy Cantalion, Guildford

No, because I knew Rafa would always have his reasons. Rafa had surprised us a few times that season, even leaving Stevie out once or twice. Yes, this was the Champions League final, but Rafa was so switched on and always doing his homework, so you saw the line-up and just got on with things. I think he looked at Cafu at right-back for Milan and thought that Kewell could occupy him. Harry was unlucky. I worked with a lot of top players and, on a technical level, he was one of the best I ever saw. That night it didn’t work out for Harry, but Hamann was so professional that he didn’t sulk. Instead he came on at half-time and helped us turn it around.

Cafu has since admitted that he and his team-mates were celebrating at half-time in Istanbul. Would you have done the same thing in their position?
Ryan Dunphy, Norwood

We only saw the Milan players walking out of the dressing room at the start of the second half looking happy, but who wouldn’t? You can’t blame them for that – they were 3-0 up with 45 minutes left to play. I would be pretty happy too in that situation. They were all really happy and we were frustrated. But then when we were walking out we could hear the Liverpool fans singing, despite how bad it had been going on the pitch. It made you think, ‘Come on, let’s try our hardest to get something, or anything, from the match in the next 45 minutes. And let’s certainly not get absolutely slaughtered...’

They wouldn’t let me take a penalty! I wanted to take one but Rafa had got other ideas.

It’s the second half at the Ataturk Stadium. Steven Gerrard scores and then Vladimir Smicer grabs another one – 3-2. So what are you thinking?
Ben Valuks, London

Wow! Let’s just keep going. The second goal came so soon after the first one that suddenly you think, ‘This might be possible.’ Suddenly we had some hope. I looked around and saw these great Milan players, but I had hope. I won’t lie and say I saw in their eyes that they were gone, because they were too good for that, but what I felt was a positivity from us and I knew that we were good enough to be here and still win it. To be honest, beating Juve [in the quarters] was the one for me that season. They had a side with [Pavel] Nedved, [Lilian] Thuram, [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and [Mauro] Camoranesi. We’d already beaten them – now we were back in it and could beat Milan.

Why didn’t you take a penalty in the shootout? Did you want to take one?
Brian McLaughlin, New York

They wouldn’t let me take a penalty! I wanted to take one but Rafa had got other ideas. I think I would have been the sixth had it gone to sudden death.

Who got the most drunk afterwards?

Nick Kerwick, Liverpool
I can’t remember! [Laughs]

After clashing with Hayden Mullins at West Ham in 2006, you were sent off and suspended for the FA Cup final – how gutted were you to miss that?
Richard Pearson, via Twitter

I was so upset. I had been sent off and was still in the shower when Pepe Reina came in and said I would be banned for the final. I just couldn’t believe it. I had scored a great goal against Chelsea in the semi-final and was looking forward to the final, but I was out. Looking back now, it was my fault. I was held by their player, caught him with my elbow and when he pushed me I fell to the floor a bit too theatrically. If I had just stood up we might have been booked, but we were both sent off instead. The moral of the story, children, is don’t overreact!You went back to Atletico in 2007 – did you leave Liverpool too soon?
Charlie Parish, Kent

I loved it there but had I stayed I might not have the great relationship with the fans that I enjoy now. I have no regrets.  

You played with a young Fernando Torres during your first spell with Atletico, and a young Sergio Aguero during your second. Who was better, and did you have any idea how good the pair would go on to become?
Harry Prescott, Twickenham

They are both so different, but yes you could see both were going to be top players. Fernando had this incredible pace, while Sergio is so strong and so determined. So South American! Just don’t make me choose between them.

You once told FourFourTwo that you didn’t know what a bowl of Scouse was – is that still the case today?
Kevin O’Rourke, Anfield

I’ve still never had it. Is it nice? I did get to like black pudding while living there.

Do you have a favourite Liverpool pub from your time on Merseyside?
Paul Minney, Knowsley Village

We never got to go to local pubs while playing but I have since discovered the King Charles, which is a nice, small pub in Anfield. The Church by the ground is also great. Both of them sell Guinness.

Which television show did you enjoy the most when you lived in England?
Andy Kirby, via Twitter

Oh, I used to love that show... the guy with the beard who presented it. What was his name? [FFT: Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal?] Yes that’s him! He was very good. Yeah, that was my favourite.

Who would make the better gaffer: Carragher or Gerrard?
Daniel Drake, via Facebook

They are actually very different. [Takes his time] Carra would make a great manager in Italy, while Stevie would be better in the Premier League. Carra would give me a lot of instruction out on the pitch. I used to mutter “f**k off” under my breath when he yelled at me! [Laughs] Actually, I had to work with a sports psychologist to help me focus while I was at Liverpool, and one of the things we worked on was trying to block out Carragher’s voice! I’d still listen to him, but soon I didn’t get as distracted by it.

I had to work with a sports psychologist to help me focus while I was at Liverpool, and one of the things we worked on was trying to block out Carragher’s voice

The Spanish team began to dominate shortly after your international career came to an end. Did you realise that they were on the verge of something truly special, and how loved are that generation of players at home now?
Stephen Dowsett, London

Football has got a short memory, but this group of players will be talked about for many years to come. This was the best group that Spain has ever seen, and as they mainly came from the two big teams – Madrid and Barcelona – the whole country was together. It was special. I had played in the qualifying games for the 2008 European Championship and you could sense the team were about to do something really big. In Spain they are hugely loved and rightly so.What is your signature tune on the guitar, and who is the best guitarist that’s ever lived?
Tony Dunkley, Sidcup

If I had my guitar with me right now I would play you Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. Who is the best guitar player ever? That is really hard, but I do love Slash from Guns N’ Roses.

You scored on your Puebla debut with a Panenka penalty. Was that your first ever attempt at one? Isn’t that a risky tactic on your debut?
Levi Nathenson, Ibiza

No, as I'd done the same to score my first ever goal in Spain, too. I loved a Panenka. I think I would have attempted one in Istanbul in 2005 if I'd been allowed to take a penalty!

Did you drive around Kolkata at all after joining Atletico in 2014, and how much did you like the football?
Teddy Davies, Hong Kong

Drive a car in Kolkata? Are you mad? No, I didn’t. It was a great experience to go and play in India. We would get 80,000 crowds there and they would celebrate everything – even the other team going close to scoring. Fireworks were going off even when our opponents got corners – crazy.

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You played in both India and Australia at the tail end of your football career. Do you think the chances of the game growing in developing leagues could be affected by the huge sums of money that Chinese Super League clubs are spending?
Grace O’Donnell, via Facebook

It is hard to say. They’re paying players a hell of a lot of money to sign, but had I been offered that sort of cash to go over there and play, then of course I might have accepted it. I don’t know what all the motives are behind the Chinese teams that are paying so much. Is it to get the global attention? Maybe. I’m not sure it’s going to make Chinese football better, as you have to develop youth to do that. Time will tell, but for now I do worry about developing leagues, as it’s very hard to compete with those wages.

I hear you love golf, Luis, so would you choose to score one more goal at the Kop end, or get a hole-in-one?
George Elder, Bromley

Oh one more goal, no doubt. I like golf, and a hole-in-one would be nice, but put me in front of those fans and let me score. Just don’t mention ghosts!

This feature originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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