Exclusive: Vladimír Šmicer on Steven Gerrard, Istanbul and Jurgen Klopp

Exclusive: Vladimír Šmicer on Steven Gerrard, Istanbul and Jurgen Klopp

Former Liverpool player Vladimir Smicer has talked exclusively to Anfield Watch about the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan and much more.

Today, Anfield Watch has an exclusive interview with former Liverpool player Vladimír Šmicer, speaking on behalf of 888sport.

The Czech player played 121 games for the Reds and he was vital in Liverpool winning the fifth European Cup in Istanbul.

He also spoke about his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Jurgen Klopp's current Liverpool side.

How would you compare your Champions League squad to the current Liverpool squad?

"I must be honest; this current squad is better definitely. When we won the Champions League in 2005, we were not favourites at all, we were underdogs," said Šmicer.

"When you think about the teams we had to defeat to win the Champions League such as Juventus, Chelsea, and AC Milan they were all really top teams.

"This current squad knows they are one of the best teams in the world, and I am not saying that because I am an ex-Liverpool player, but because it’s a fact. They have already won the Champions League and won the club’s first league title in over 30 years.

"They have a great manager in Jurgen Klopp and have everything it takes to be the best team in the world."

What was it like playing with Steven Gerrard and how do you rate him with other great European midfielders?

"When I signed for Liverpool in 1999, Stevie was beginning to show his amazing potential. It was great to watch him grow from a young lad to the Liverpool captain; at his best, he was definitely one of the three best players in European Football," said Šmicer.

"It just wasn’t about his leadership ability; it was about his style also, he had everything to his game. He was physical, aggressive, could shoot from range and dribble past players.

"But ultimately Stevie was an unbelievable leader, he has a great heart, a fighting heart. We knew when he was playing, we could defeat anyone.

"Gerrard was irreplaceable for us."

Do you see him one day replacing Jurgen Klopp and becoming the manager of Liverpool?

"It’s going to be difficult for anyone to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, but if it is going to be anyone, definitely Stevie G. Liverpool fans would welcome Stevie into the managerial role with open arms if Klopp had to be replaced," said Šmicer.

"Stevie did really well at Rangers, and he started well at Aston Villa. I would love to see him become the manager of Liverpool one day."

Aside from the Gerrard’s and the Alonso’s, was there anyone in that 2005 Champions League winning side that did not get the credit they deserved?

"It’s a difficult question but I would say Didi Hamman. Sometimes Didi wasn’t appreciated by the fans, but what he did was keep the balance in our side, like what Fabinho does currently," said Šmicer.

"I think Fabinho is fantastic, but for our team, Didi Hamman had that role. He always kept the balance in our side, he came on as sub in the second half of the 2005 Champions League final and he showed up.

"He matched up against Kaka and stopped him playing which was key to helping us win that final."

When you went in at half time down 3-0 to AC Milan, what is going through your mind at this point?

"I was very disappointed, but also, I was hungry. It was tough to go into halftime 3-0 down as we should have had a penalty in the first half when it was 1-0 because Alessandro Nesta controlled the ball with his hand," said Šmicer.

"Then on the counterattack, we conceded a second goal. We were shocked, arguing with the referee and then the third goal went in shortly after.

"So, I was very disappointed, we made a couple of mistakes in the first half, but we did not deserve to be 3-0 down.

"When I got back to the dressing room everyone was speechless, nobody was talking, we felt that this could be our only chance in some of our careers to win the Champions League, we prepared for the game for 10 days and conceded after 60 seconds, so it was tough.

"Rafa Benitez gave us 5 minutes to cool off and then he spoke to us. Everything he told us in that dressing room at half-time happened in the second half. It was a masterpiece.

"He told us that we were going to change the system to a 3-5-2. Riise will be on the left, and I will be on the right side, I had never played that position in my life, but it did not matter.

"Rafa also put Steven Gerrard up front, so he could be in the box and so we could put more crosses in. Straightaway from a cross in the second half Stevie scored.

"Rafa also told us to shoot from distance if we had a chance. I then took a chance, and it went in, just like that it is 3-2.

"I do not know how Benitez saw it, but everything he said happened."

What did the fans do in providing a boost for your side?

"The fans played a very important role. We had more than 40,000 fans in Istanbul. They were singing at half time, when we came out for the second half and heard them sing YNWA it gave us a real boost," said Šmicer.

"We were low on confidence, and prepared well tactically for the second half, but hearing them singing was important for us, as they were still there for the team.

"So, the team said let us try to score as early as possible, and then we scored in 6 minutes."

The ball comes to your feet, you hit the shot and it goes in and then what?

"I was so surprised. I called for the ball from Didi, and I was just thinking in my head let me have a good first touch and try to hit it. That was all I could do in the position," said Šmicer.

"I did not score too many goals outside of the box, but I hit it sweetly and knew it was a good shot. The keeper saw it a bit late and was shocked by it.

"I was screaming, nobody was behind me when I was celebrating, only Milan Baros came to me to give me a hug. I was thinking where are the others?

"Baros told me they are in our half, ready to start the game again. After the second goal, I knew we were going to get the third because we had all the momentum."

When Dudek made that save from Shevchenko, at that point did you think it was going to be Liverpool’s night?

"Yes, I did after that save. However, to be honest, in extra time Milan were playing much better, Ancelotti had made some changes and we had given a lot of effort to fight back from 3-0 down," said Šmicer.

"Because of this, I remember Stevie coming back to play in midfield, and then he finished the game at right back!

"We knew we had a great chance on penalties because when Dudek made that save with about three minutes to go, I knew it was written in the stars for us and we all had the same feeling.

"We were happy when we finished the extra period at 3-3 and we were going to penalties. AC Milan did not want to go to penalties, they tried everything to score the winning goal, but Dudek denied them.

You scored your penalty in the shootout, how much preparation did you do in the 10 days leading up to the final?

"Sometimes after training, we might take 1 or 2 penalties. We didn’t really prepare for penalties; we were just confident we would beat Milan in the shootout.

"When it comes to the shootout it's completely different to taking them in training due to the factors at play. When the shootout comes you are very fatigued, and the pressure is completely different.

"It is good to work on your penalties in training, as it will help you figure out different technicalities about penalty taking such as your run-up. However, when you are in the environment of a penalty shootout, the pressure is immense."

Did you volunteer to take a pen, or did Rafa ask who wants to take one?

"Rafa selected two players for normal time if there was a penalty. However, when it came to the shootout, he was asking the players who wants to take one?," said Šmicer.

"At that time, I was 32 years old and had played for 10 years for the national team. I was an attacking player and was looking around and seeing only the defenders offer to take a penalty.

"But I told myself, I had already scored, and it is a chance to score a penalty in the Champions League final, you must do it.

"Rafa asked me do I want to take one, and I said yeah. Then he put me down to take the fourth penalty, I was shocked and in that moment the pressure is completely different now.

"I was so nervous."

Who will make the final of the Champions League and ultimately win it?

"I hope it is going to be Liverpool, but Villareal have shown how good they are as they have already beaten Juventus and Bayern. They have surprised me a lot," said Šmicer.

"I was speaking to Luis Garcia last weekend about Villarreal and hopefully Liverpool will beat them.

"I do not want to play against Manchester City again, I am going for a classic Champions League tie in the final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

"That would be a great tie in Paris."

Can Liverpool do the quadruple, if so, where would Klopp sit in the Liverpool’s greatest manager argument?

"I think he is already one of the greatest Liverpool managers ever as he has already won the Champions League and the Premier League," said Šmicer.

"However, if Liverpool do the quadruple, they will definitely go down as one of the greatest teams in the history of football for sure."

Vladimír Šmicer was speaking on behalf of 888sport. Head to 888sport for the latest Premier League odds.

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