Ahead of the 15-year anniversary of the Reds’ Miracle of Istanbul, the former player has opened up on his frustrations with the club and Rafa Benitez
Former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock has opened up on his anger at being omitted from the Reds’ 2005 Champions League final squad, admitting that it “still hurts” a decade-and-a-half after the club’s victory over Milan.
Warnock was initially named in Rafa Benitez’s squad for the game against the Serie A heavyweights in Turkey, but ultimately did not make the cut for the matchday squad after he was swapped out for Josemi.
He subsequently had to sit in the stands for what became the Miracle of Istanbul, and his absence ultimately helped hasten a departure to Blackburn Rovers a year-and-a-half later.
Reflecting on the game now, Warnock says that he remains particularly pained by the whole endeavour, particularly singling out Benitez for his ire after the manager’s assistant instead told him he was out of the reckoning to feature.
“When I hear it described as being one of Liverpool’s greatest ever nights, it leaves a very sour taste,” the 38-year-old told BBC Sport. “It still hurts now, actually – the way it was handled was absolutely shocking.
“I was in the original squad when the team sheet up was put up at the training ground a few days before the game, and I was absolutely ecstatic. Then a couple of hours later, I got a call from Rafa Benitez’s assistant, Pako Ayesteran, saying there had been a mistake. Josemi was in instead.
“Even that was poor – the fact that Rafa did not have the bottle to ring me himself. He did speak to me briefly on the pitch after the game, but I was not in the mood at all, I was still seething.
“I had been the same during the game. Don’t get me wrong, it was never to the point where I wanted them to lose, because Liverpool were my club and they were my team-mates out there, but it hurts when you are not involved and I was sitting there in the stands thinking about it the whole time. You almost switch off from what is happening in the game.
“If you look at the celebrations afterwards, a lot of people are on all the different photos but I am nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t bring myself to stand there, it just did not feel right. You feel like you have been let down.”
Warnock further added that his ire was increased by the club’s actions on the journey home from Turkey, which helped to cement his decision to seek an exit from Anfield.
“The worst thing was the flight home, though,” he noted. “They put the wives of those who had played on the plane, ahead of some players who had made key contributions in Europe that season, which was just shocking.
“We got back to John Lennon Airport on a later flight to the team and, when we landed, the victory parade had already started. You could not get to the bus because of the crowds, so I just went home. That was the moment I made my mind up that I had to leave the club.”