For many football fans, Liverpool's thrilling second half performance against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final ranks as the greatest comeback of all time. Yet for one of the players involved in that turnaround, the second period is even more of a sliding doors moment – Djimi Traore wasn't even supposed to be on the pitch.
"It's a true story," explains the former Reds defender, who was recently announced as the Head Coach of International Academy for Right To Dream, a Ghanaian-founded organisation which provides young people across the world with life-changing opportunities through sport and education. "Tactically-speaking, Rafael Benitez made a change at halftime and I was supposed to be subbed.
"We changed our formation and we went from a back four to a back three. But then in the last minute before we went back out, our physio discovered that our right back, Steve Finnan, was injured and wouldn’t be able to continue. So they put me back into the team."
Traore went on to play the entire 120 minute match, later dubbed 'The Miracle of Istanbul', following Liverpool's three-goal comeback and subsequent penalty shootout win. The French-born Malian international believes his mentality helped him overcome the setback of being subbed at half-time, while the team also had the belief that they could turn things around.
"That's the story of my life in football," he tells FFT. "One of my strengths has always been my mentality – my ability to go again whenever I have a setback or a difficult circumstance. You can put so many obstacles in my way, but during my career I went through them.
"Our mentality at Liverpool was always to believe in ourselves. Whenever we were losing at half-time we would say to ourselves, 'The game is nil-nil', and we believed that. We lost the first half and needed to win the second half. That is how we went back onto the field. We knew if we scored in the first 15 mins, we could change the game."
A six-minute three-goal swing was completed before the hour mark, as an inferior Liverpool side hauled their way back against illustrious opponents – AC Milan's team included the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Paolo Maldini.
On his new role with Right To Dream, Traore said, "If I can contribute and give back my knowledge, that would be amazing. I enjoy the diversity of the Right To Dream project – working with players from different communities and countries. And it's not only about football, as well. We don’t only want to produce top, top players, not everyone can make it. It’s about helping these footballers become better people as well. Creating a relationship between ourselves and them and supporting them."
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