The author with Luis Garcia in Bangkok. Photo provided by author
As a youngster growing up in Catalunya, Spain, Luis Javier Garcia grew up dreaming of playing for its world famous football team, FC Barcelona. He did suit up wearing the blue and red colors of the club, first for its youth team then its B squad in the Segunda Division, and finally with its La Liga team during the 2003-04 season.
Garcia found it hard to get playing time in a squad that had a heavy Dutch flavor — Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, and Giovanni van Bronckhorst to name a few. The Spanish players saw current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique serving as team captain while the young guns from its famous Academy had come up — Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Victor Valdes to name a few.
Garcia did see action in 38 matches in all competitions that season and scored eight goals while playing as an attacking midfielder. However, Rafael Benitez’ Valencia squad won La Liga that season fully utilizing a 4-2-3-1 formation even before it became de rigueur.
The next season, Barcelona featured a more samba flavor as the Brazilians replaced the Dutch with Edmilson and Sylvinho joining then-stud scorer Ronaldinho. With Samuel Eto’o on board, the writing was on the wall for Garcia who departed for Liverpool as Benitez’s first signing after jumping ship to England.
Garcia played three years at the Merseyside where he scored 31 goals in all competitions. He was known as a Chelsea-killer and played huge during Liverpool’s run to the 2005 European championship. In his last year during the 2006-07 season, Garcia tore up his knee and saw his eventual release by the club.
Yet such was the impact of Garcia that even up to today, he serves as an ambassador for the club and is the recipient of perhaps the ultimate compliment for any player who wears his boots at Anfield, Liverpool storied stadium — by being the subject of a song by its famous fans at the Kop.
We caught up with Garcia during a special luncheon served in his honor by club sponsor Standard Chartered during Liverpool’s recent trip to Bangkok last July 12-14 for an exhibition match against a team of Thai All-Stars as well as while attending several fan activities.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: You played for two of the most iconic clubs in Barcelona and Liverpool but you are more known for your time in Anfield even if short. One, how does it feel to play for both; and two, to be honored in Liverpool with a song by the Kop that to this day is lustily sung from the stands?
A: I’ve been around the whole world playing football but I played a very good chapter of my life at Liverpool. To be able to play and win in the Champions League with Liverpool is a dream for any football player because of their history in the competition and also because of the nature of the competition.
For my contributions to the club, the Kop gave me a very gift that is just as good as any winner’s medal or trophy. That the Kop sings me a song, I am proud to have it. Sometimes, I am at home watching the game and I can hear them sing it and it makes my hair stand up. It is very special. I am proud to have that. Something that I will take with me forever.
You have the Kop singing that gift for me and then there’s (the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ song that has become the club theme) “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that when I hear at Anfield makes my hair stand up. Always it happens.
What can I say but Liverpool has treated me very well from the first moment and up to today where I am an ambassador for the club. I will always support the team forever.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: We all know that winning the UEFA Champions League at Istanbul in 2005 is a huge accomplishment for everyone on that team. What do you take away from that game and how do you feel about it now?
LUIS GARCIA: It is a special memory not just because we won the game but how we won it. And it is one of the best football championships ever or so I am told. It is not every day that you go down 3-nil but come back to win the game. I am proud to say that I played in that game. My medal is in a special place in my house and I look at it every now and then. It’s a big accomplishment for me.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: Do you have a favorite teammate during your time at Liverpool? Who is it and why?
LUIS GARCIA: Didi Hamann would be my favorite teammate during my time in Liverpool. Because not only is Didi a very good player but he is fun to work with as well. He may be funny but when it’s time to play he plays hard. A solid footballer.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: As for the rest of the rest of the XI?
LUIS GARCIA: You mean my eleven? So now the pressure is on! Oh my goodness this is going to be hard. (thinks for a few seconds). Aside from Hamman, I would get (Carles) Puyol at the center, (Paolo) Maldini — I am going to pick it up here — Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Xavi Hernandez, Steven Gerrard, (Zinedine) Zidane, (Lionel) Messi, Ronaldo not the new one but the old one. For the keeper, I will have to think about that.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: You mentioned Gerrard, what was it like to play with him? What do you think of him?
LUIS GARCIA: For us, going into the pitch, he was always going to give 100%. He was the leader all the time and we were going to follow him. He was our hero every time. And he was an important person inside the dressing room. During our Champions League run, we had many bad moments but he was always there giving us positive energy. He was important for us.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: What do you think that Liverpool and yourself have a lot of fans in the Philippines? And do you have a message for them?
LUIS GARCIA: We have a fan base there? Now that is incredible. It is good to know that. That’s the lovely thing about this sport, you not only get to travel around the world but you also get to meet many people who have an impact on your life. I would like to think that I too help them in some way and giving back to the sport is always good. It is good to know that we have supporters there in the Philippines. I have fans there too? That’s nice. Now it’s my turn to ask the question, what is the football like there?
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: It’s a growing and healthy scene back home. We have a long way to go but in a short span of time, we have climbed up the ladder to success and I don’t think we are looking back.
LUIS GARCIA: That is fascinating. I hope your country continues to do well. Wow. It is nice to know that Liverpool has fans there. Thanks to the Philippines. Maybe one day I get to visit your country.
ABS-CBNNEWS.COM: That would be real nice. Thanks for your time, Luis. Best wishes.
LUIS GARCIA: Thank you too.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.