Vladimir Smicer: "Rafa was very positive, he said the first thing we had to do was stop conceding"

Jermaine Tan has a chat with former Liverpool midfielder Vladimir Smicer as they discuss Brendan Rodgers' struggles this season, child obesity in Europe and that fateful night in Istanbul... 

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Former Czech Republic international Vladimir Smicer might not always ring a bell with a new generation of football fans, but ask any Liverpool diehard and they will agree that Smicer has helped placed Liverpool in the history books.

Signed in 1999, Smicer spent six years at Liverpool and scored in the famous 2005 Champions League Final, as the Reds came back from three goals down to win the ultimate prize in Europe on an unforgettable night in Istanbul.

FourFourTwo caught up with him to discuss the plight of the current Liverpool team and the debate surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

You’ve scored many goals throughout your career, but would you say that goal in the 2005 Champions League was the most memorable for you?

Yes, it’s like my signature goal. Scoring in the Champions League Final is a dream for all the kids in the world. Winning the game and lifting the cup, especially after six years at Liverpool, was a great feeling for me. I knew I was leaving Liverpool after this game, so it was an unbelievable experience and I’m glad I helped Liverpool win this trophy.

When you were 3-0 down at half time, can you remember what the dressing room was like during the break and how the players felt?

When I came to the dressing room the players were very sad, as we knew it was a once in a lifetime chance of winning this trophy. We won’t be playing in the Champions League final every year. However, Rafa Benitez was very positive and he said the first thing we had to do was stop conceding goals. There were 40,000 fans at the stadium and if we could score one goal, we would be back in the game. We came out of the dressing room and heard the fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and that gave us a lot of courage and fighting spirit.

The current Liverpool squad is struggling following Luis Suarez's departure. With Daniel Sturridge out injured, what does Brendan Rodgers need to do to turn things around?

It’s a very difficult question. In my opinion, Rodgers is trying to find a good team, and he’s struggling with the absence of Sturridge. The offensive power of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling last season is out. Now he needs to find a new formula and it is not working at the moment. It’s not only about the manager, the players must perform better.

What do you think of Suarez’s decision to move to Barcelona?

I thought he was happy at Liverpool so I’m surprised he left. I read something about his wife living in Spain, so maybe that’s why he wanted to go. With Barcelona, you have a chance of playing with Lionel Messi, so it is difficult to say no.

What’s your take on Mario Balotelli? Is he a good replacement for Suarez?

For Mario, I thought it was going to be a restart in his career, from Manchester City to AC Milan and now to Liverpool. I don’t think he is happy with his performances. We all know he is talented and he needs to bring more to the team, and that is what the fans are waiting from him. Maybe it’s the big pressure as everyone is watching his every move.  It is not easy for anyone to step up after what Suarez did for Liverpool last season.

You have been passionately fighting child obesity in Czech Republic. What can be done to tackle this problem in Europe?

We have to create a safe place for kids to play many sports, not just football. Give them good coaches and trainers, and give them support in schools. 15 to 20 years ago, the kids have five hours of sports activities per week, and now it’s only two. It’s not enough.

The 2022 World Cup in Doha will be played under extreme conditions in the summer, and there are proposals to shift the tournament to the cooler winter months, which would conflict with the domestic leagues. What are your thoughts on such a move?

I think for a football club it’s good. It will be very interesting playing the World Cup in winter because the players will probably not be too tired. Conditions will be perfect and the players will be in top form. Of course the leagues will be in trouble, especially in England. In winter, people like to see their clubs play and now there will be a break. It’s a tough decision but it must be done. The World Cup in Qatar may be okay for the players with air conditioning, but what about the fans and the atmosphere? It will be difficult.

If we compare the English Premier League to the Spanish and Italian leagues, which is the most exciting competition in the world today?

It has to be the English Premier League, and it’s not just because I played there for six years. In Italy, I don’t see the Italian teams doing well in Europe. The Spanish league is all about Barcelona and Real Madrid, All the people I know watch these two teams and they are not watching different teams. In England, it’s not just about two teams, but there are six or seven teams at the top, which makes it very interesting. 

Main Image: Kamthorn Pornsakupaisal/LHC500D photography

Robbie Fowler and the Liverpool Legends will be appearing at The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.