Excerpts from Pepe Reina's autobiography
Liverpoolfc.tv brings you an exclusive chapter from Pepe Reina's new autobiography in which he explains how Rafael Benitez pestered him into joining the Reds and reveals that he was already a Liverpool player during Istanbul.
When Liverpool won the Champions League in Istanbul on May 25, 2005 there was one player missing from the celebrations - me. Not many people know this, but the £6 million deal that took me to Anfield was already done by then. It was not announced until July, but on the night that Liverpool won their fifth European Cup in the most incredible fashion imaginable I belonged to them. Villarreal had approved my sale and I had agreed terms, so on the greatest night in my new club's history I was at home, alone, watching the dramatic events unfold on my television with only some beer for company.
That game is one of the greatest examples of how beautiful football can be. It showed that nothing is impossible and that even the worst situations can be turned around.
I didn't see it that way at half-time, of course. With Liverpool 3-0 down and seemingly on their way to defeat I was absolutely gutted. Being a Liverpool player by then, my first instinct was that I was about to leave a club which had qualified for the Champions League for one who would not be in it. I called my agent and said to him: "We're ****** now. We are not even going to play in the Champions League."
The worrying thing about the whole situation was that going into the game Liverpool were not even sure that winning the Champions League would get them into the competition the following season because they had failed to finish in the top four in the Premier League. But the feeling was that if they won the trophy UEFA would have to give them the opportunity to defend it.
None of that mattered at half-time with Liverpool three goals behind. At that point UEFA being faced with a tricky situation didn't even look like a possibility. It was Liverpool who had all the problems and the question was whether they could even get a goal to make the scoreline more respectable. So I was really in a bad mood.
Then everything changed. After the three goals in six minutes I was back on the phone to my agent. "Manolo, Manolo, we are back," I shouted. Like everyone else I could not believe what I was seeing. Teams had come back from the dead before - but not like this. Not in European football's biggest and most important match - and certainly not against an AC Milan team which had played so well that the trophy could have been packed up and sent to Italy at half-time and no- one could have complained.
I was glued to the game as it went to extra-time and penalties. Everything turned crazy. I was so nervous that I kept on drinking and drinking. By the end of the final I was flat out on my bed after the 10 beers I drank. But I was happy. I had celebrated Liverpool's goals as if I was playing and when Stevie lifted the trophy I celebrated like the rest of his team-mates.
I might not have been out there, dancing around the pitch at the Ataturk Stadium and singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone', but in effect I was already one of his team-mates. The deal to take me to Anfield was actually signed at the beginning of May. But Barcelona had a sell-on clause put into my contract when I moved to Villarreal and they were entitled to up to 40 per cent of any future transfer fee. That clause expired in July so the transfer was not formally completed until then to allow Villarreal to keep all of the proceeds. I eventually went to Liverpool to finalise everything on July 4. It is a date that is etched on my mind, and will be forever.
I had been aware of Liverpool's interest in me for some time before then, with the first contact probably being made as early as February that year. I share the same agent as Rafa Benitez, Manolo Garcia Quilon, and I became aware that Rafa was having a few problems with his goalkeepers and was not totally satisfied with them during his first season at Liverpool.
I was having one of the best seasons of my career at Villarreal and Liverpool made an offer for me in the springtime. They met with my agent and Benitez, being the annoying - in a good way - manager that he is, rang me every single day to convince me to make the move. Every morning when I was on my way to training my phone would ring and before I even answered it I would know who it was.
"Pepe, it is Rafa," the daily conversation would begin. "Things are the same as yesterday. I do not want to bother you because I know you need to focus on qualifying for the Champions League with Villarreal, but I just need to tell you that we are really keen to sign you and we are working very hard to make it happen."
I even ended up playing a part in the negotiations for my own transfer because Rafa was asking me to ask Villarreal if they could lower their asking price! He also asked me if I could get my agent to reduce my wage demands! It was an unusual situation but I just had to laugh about it. I was really grateful to Rafa because he wanted to take me to Liverpool so much. He gave me that opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. If I had to put up with a few phone calls and being asked to negotiate lower wages for myself then so be it. That's just Rafa.
This wasn't the first time I had been aware of Rafa's interest in me. He first wanted to sign me when I was with Barcelona B. I was only 17 years old at the time and he was making a name for himself as manager of Tenerife. With a team that included Luis Garcia, they enjoyed a good season in 2000/01 and ended up finishing third in La Liga. We were playing in a friendly tournament in Gran Canaria and before one of our matches I saw him standing behind my goal, watching me warm up and go through my routine. This was before the game had even kicked off. It was clear that he was keeping an eye on me as he didn't focus on any of the other players.
That made me nervous because I already knew that he was looking to sign me, but I came through the game with no mistakes and it wasn't long after that he tried to recruit me on loan. I turned the move down because at that stage I just wanted to stay and fight for a place at Barcelona. I wasn't ready to leave. Even that didn't put him off as a few years later he tried to sign me again, this time when he was in charge of Valencia. That move didn't happen either.
But anyone who knows Rafa at all will tell you that he isn't the kind of person who just gives up. If he wants something he will keep on going until it either happens or it is impossible to happen. His persistence is unbelievable. In my case it was a good thing because he came back in for me after he became Liverpool manager and this time he got me. It was third time lucky. I will always be grateful to him for not giving up on me, even after I turned him down a couple of times. He gave me the opportunity to play in England for one of the greatest clubs in the world and I appreciate that so much.
Because I knew Liverpool wanted me early in the year I was able to take an interest in their run to Istanbul in the knowledge that they were going to become my club. I was already interested because there were so many Spanish people there, but their exploits in the Champions League meant I was getting more excited about the possibility of moving to Anfield with every passing round. The victories over Juventus and Chelsea in the quarter-finals and semi-finals stick in my mind, but as special as those occasions obviously were, they never made anything like the impact on me that the final against AC Milan did. I suppose that is the same for everyone in football. Whenever anyone mentions Istanbul it conjures up the most wonderful images.
I had spoken to Xabi Alonso about Liverpool beforehand because we were together in the Spain squad and I had a good friendship with him, but most of the conversations I had about the city were with Mikel Arteta. At the time, he was an Everton player through and through, but because of our friendship he was happy to help me and answer all of the questions that I had as I made my mind up about the transfer.
When it came down to it, it was definitely easier for me to make the decision to move to Liverpool because there were five Spanish players already there. The manager was Spanish, the goalkeeping coach was Spanish and so were a number of the staff. This wasn't crucial in my decision to join Liverpool, but it was definitely a factor because I knew it would be easier for me to settle in than it would have been if I'd gone to a very English club with a totally English mentality.
The way I looked at it, Liverpool were a Spanish English club and that meant they were perfect for me. By signing for them straight after they won the European Cup it made me feel that I was joining something special and that the work that Benitez was doing at Liverpool would have to be respected because they had lifted one of the most important trophies. Rafa had become an important figure at Liverpool in just one year and he would have the respect of the supporters forever, so when he came for me I knew that the time was right to sign.
I arrived thinking that even if this only lasts for two or three years it could be really good, but something inside of me was making me feel that I would be there even longer than that.
I was only 22 when I made the move, an age which some people say is too young to go abroad to a new league, particularly for a goalkeeper. But as well as Liverpool being too good an opportunity to turn down, I also had personal reasons for wanting to go.
At the time my girlfriend, Yolanda, and my parents were not getting on too well so I thought it would be best for everyone if we went abroad together as a couple and put some space between my family and ourselves, just to allow everything to settle down. It wasn't as if there were major problems, but when you are a young couple, sometimes it is a good idea to find your own way in life. The way I saw it, this would be a chance for Yolanda and myself to start a family together in a new country. It was as much about establishing our own independence and our own way of doing things. Whatever the reason it worked because I am now happily married to Yolanda. We have three wonderful children, and our relationship with my parents is better than ever. Whoever said a change can do you good was spot on because moving to Liverpool was the making of us as a couple and as a family. We have never looked back.
When we first arrived in Liverpool we stayed at the Hope Street Hotel, which is a beautiful place in the city centre where the staff were really helpful to us as we tried to settle in.
Despite this, we found the first 15 days really hard. In fact, they were absolutely horrible. This was the middle of July and every single time I looked out of the window it was pouring down with rain. Not just short, sharp showers, these were full on downpours that meant we could do nothing much apart from sit in our hotel room and think of the roasting hot summer we had left behind in Spain.
I can remember saying to my wife: "What the hell is going on? Is it ever going to change or are we going to spend the rest of our lives carrying umbrellas and staying inside so as not to get soaked?"
It is something that you cannot prepare yourself for when you leave a country with a hot climate and go to one where it feels like it rains all the time. Credit to my wife, though, because when we had these moments of doubt about the move she made sure that I never even got close to the point where I questioned my decision to come to Liverpool. Now, we look back on that time and we laugh. It is quite funny to recall because the whole family is now totally settled and my wife has become a proper Scouse mum.
I didn't really care about the weather or the food. I had no qualms about moving to Liverpool, despite some people suggesting that Liverpool had some problems. If you look at any place, anywhere in the world, you can find reasons why it might be better to go somewhere else. If anything, the idea of going to Liverpool excited me. I knew it was a city of fighters with people who are willing to stand up for themselves, even when it seems that everyone is against them. I liked that idea. It is easy to live in the richest city where you have everything on your doorstep and the politicians are helping you all the time. Liverpool is not like that and that makes it a challenge for everyone who lives there. There was something about that which captured my imagination. Then, when I looked at what the football club had achieved throughout its history, it made moving to Liverpool a no-brainer. The city and the club attracted me and no amount of rain or freezing cold summer days were going to put me off. Well, not in theory anyway.
Driving wasn't the problem that I had perhaps expected it to be. I got used to driving in the left-hand lane fairly quickly and my only trouble is that I still use a car that is left-hand drive because that is what I prefer. Whenever I pull over to get a ticket to go and park I have to throw myself across to the window on the opposite side of the car to grab it. It surprised me how quickly I got used to driving on the opposite side of the road, so much so that there have been a couple of times when it has almost got me into trouble when I am back home in Spain.
On a couple of occasions I have been driving along the road minding my own business and then all of a sudden a car is travelling towards me in my lane. 'Where the hell is this lunatic going?' I think and then I realise that it's me who is in the wrong lane and I have to get across to the right-hand side of the road before I cause an accident. That shows how much I have got used to the English way of doing things.
Sometimes people don't realise that a foreign player has to take all these new ways of life into account when they move to a new team. They look at the fabled lifestyle of a footballer, the kind that they see in the newspapers and on TV, and it makes them think that it must be easy no matter who you are or where you are from. But it doesn't matter what your job is, when you move to a new country your life changes altogether and that can be tough. You have to pick up the language, adapt your culture, get used to a new way of driving and adjust to a different climate - and you do all this without the support network that you had at home. Ultimately none of that mattered to me. I knew that I was going to a fantastic league and to one of the greatest clubs in the world. For all of the natural concerns I had about going abroad at a young age it was an easy decision for me to go to Liverpool.
My first impression of Liverpool Football Club was that it was totally different to Villarreal. It was a massive club that had been crowned champions of Europe only weeks before my arrival and it was based in the north of a big city. Villarreal has a population of only 40,000 people and every single person at the club knows one another. After six years at Liverpool there are still people who work for the club, particularly in the offices, who I do not know because the organisation is so big. So it was the size of the club that struck me first, but then I began to realise and understand its history, appreciate the supporters and started to come to terms with the expectations of playing for one of the most successful clubs in the history of European football. At Barcelona it had been different because I had grown up at the club. That meant I knew almost everything about it by the time I broke into the first-team. At Liverpool it was all new and it did take getting used to.
The first challenge I had was to establish myself in the dressing room. This is not as it easy as it sounds. When I first walked in, I saw Stevie Gerrard, one of the best players in the world; Sami Hyypia, a Liverpool legend; Xabi Alonso, a great player who had scored in the Champions League final, and so on and so on. Everywhere I looked there was a European champion and I was stood there with hardly a winners' medal to my name.
I had confidence in myself but I also knew that I could be punching above my weight so all I could do at first was keep my head down, work hard and try to prove myself. There were a few characters at Anfield when I joined. Didi Hamann was a very funny guy and we hit it off straight away. Crouchy joined the club in the same summer as I did and he was also funny, so it was good to be a part of a dressing room where there were people who would have a laugh. But this shouldn't give the wrong impression because that dressing room was also more professional than any I had encountered in my career to that point.
Every single player was more professional in the way they trained and the way they prepared for games than I was used to in Spain. That sent a message to me. I realised how serious football was taken in the Premier League and I knew that I had to reach that level. I had to look after myself and I had to give my all at every single moment because if I hadn't it would have been noticeable. The players didn't tend to socialise that much outside the dressing room - not because there was a problem or a bad atmosphere, it's just that we did not tend to go out for dinner or nights out together much. It was friendly but professional.
Like I say, there was a community of Spanish players there. Xabi, Luis Garcia, Fernando Morientes and Josemi were all at the club - and this undoubtedly made it easier for me to settle in. They were telling me everything that I had to do, all the rules I needed to follow and showing me where I needed to go. Thanks to them, the adaptation process was much easier than it might otherwise have been.
There was a massive interest in us in Spain. Liverpool had won the Champions League the previous year and because there were so many Spaniards in the team one newspaper even called us "El Benitels". Every single Liverpool game was shown on television in Spain and the people in my country were loving the club because they saw us as unofficial representatives of our homeland. That was really important for us because it showed that the project we were involved in mattered a lot. Had we been at a club that had no chance of success or that noone was interested in outside of their own supporters then we would have been a curiosity in Spain, but not much else.
There are some things that even my compatriots could not help with though and the English language, or rather the Scouse accent, did take some getting used to at first. I was looking around the city one time, seeing a few sights, and I thought I would go to see the cathedrals. I didn't know exactly where they were so I stopped someone in the street to ask for directions.
"Excuse me, can you tell me where the church is?" I asked in my very best English accent.
"The wha'?" came the reply.
"The church," I repeated, making a cross with my fingers to illustrate what I meant. Still all I got were more blank looks as if I was crazy.
"The church. You know, Jesus Christ and all that."
"If yer wanted to know where the cheerch was why didn't yer say?"
I'd stood there for five minutes repeating myself over and over again, doing hand signals and all kinds, but I still couldn't get across where I wanted to go because I couldn't say church like a Scouser says it.
Most of the staff at Melwood didn't speak English, they spoke Scouse. It was very difficult to understand because it is so fast and there is so much slang. Now, when I speak with English people when I am abroad, they ask me if I am a Scouser. It is one of the best compliments I can have because it means I am a part of Liverpool and one of the people. I wouldn't have it any other way. Now even my daughters sound Scouse when they talk. Not Scouse like Stevie or Carra, but you can definitely tell that they come from Liverpool and that makes me proud. But it was hard to get used to at first.
I only spoke a little bit of English when I arrived - only as much as I had learned at school. It was a handicap for me to have so many Spanish speaking players and staff with me at Melwood because it was easy to lapse into speaking in our native tongue. Rafa kept on going on at us, telling us that we had to speak English all the time. Sometimes it was annoying because you just want to get a message across quickly and the easiest way would have been just to talk in Spanish.
But the principle that Rafa was trying to enforce was right. We needed to show respect to our team-mates by speaking in English, even if it was hard sometimes. We were playing in England so it was only right that we should do that. Still, there were times when no-one was around that we would have a chat in Spanish. We would always make sure Rafa couldn't catch us first though!
I was taken on a tour of Anfield and the museum at the stadium. When I saw the stadium without any people in it, it was still really impressive and it made a big impression on me. But it could not compare to my home debut which came against a team that I had never even heard of before I came to England.
Total Network Solutions, or TNS as they are better known, a team from the League of Wales, were my first opponents as a Liverpool FIVE STAR RED player after we were drawn to play against them in the qualifying rounds for the 2005/06 Champions League. Because we entered the competition at such an early stage after UEFA had only allowed us to defend the European Cup on the basis that we started in the qualifiers it meant our season, and my Liverpool career, kicked off in mid-July.
The game was always going to be memorable for me, particularly as Stevie made my debut even more special by scoring a hat-trick in a 3-0 win, but there was another player who will never forget that night. The TNS game was the first time I had played alongside John Arne Riise - and I ended up punching him! He was a really good team-mate and I didn't mean it, of course. A cross came into the box and I punched the ball away, but I caught Riise as well and knocked him down.
As he was getting up off the floor he started laughing and said to me: "Fucking hell, what have you just done to me?" I said: "Listen, I shouted 'keeper, keeper' and when you hear that you have to move otherwise I hit your head." It was an important moment because it showed the way I was intending to go about things.
The main difficulty for me settling in at Anfield was that I was replacing one of the heroes of Istanbul. A few months earlier I had been dumbstruck when Jerzy Dudek made that save from Andriy Shevchenko in the Champions League final, and I had celebrated when he stopped a penalty from the same player to win the European Cup for Liverpool. But here I was taking his place in the team. It was a pressure for me, there is no question about that.
However, everyone knew that I was not coming into the team because of anything he had done in that game. I was given the opportunity because Rafa had not been convinced by his goalkeepers over the course of the entire 2004/05 season. The goalkeeper's position had been filled in turn by Jerzy, Chris Kirkland and Scott Carson. The stability was not there. It was clear that Rafa wanted someone to be his number one in every game and I was the person that he thought was right for that role. I could not do anything about the situation with the other keepers and I could not afford to worry too much about them, not even Jerzy, because if I had done then I would have been distracted and would not have been able to do my best. But of course I was a little bit scared because I was following in the footsteps of someone who had played a crucial role in Liverpool winning their fifth European Cup. It wasn't as if I was replacing a player who the fans did not like. I managed to get my head around it by realising that if the manager had phoned me 25 times in two hours telling me to come to Liverpool it was because he wanted me and trusted me.
My decision to join Liverpool was vindicated because in the first few years we were fighting for every trophy apart from the Premier League. We won the FA Cup and we were one of the teams to beat in Europe.
That Liverpool team is the one that the fans want to watch again and it is where we need to be. We need to be one of the best eight teams in Europe every year, not failing even to qualify for the Champions League. If you are lucky enough to be at a club that has set the standards for everyone else then you have to do everything that you possibly can to live up to expectations. We have to be fighting for the league every year and fighting for the European Cup. This is not optional at Liverpool, it is the way it always has to be and if it were ever to stop being like this then the club would be changed forever. It was once said that Liverpool Football Club exists to win trophies, but it is even more than that, as far as I am concerned - it exists to win big trophies. We are like Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Bayern Munich, giants of the game. When you are a member of the elite you have to act like one and this means competing for the biggest prizes.
I actually got my hands on a winners' medal just two months into my Liverpool career when we won the Super Cup against CSKA Moscow in the Stade Louis II Stadium in Monaco. It was another comeback in a European final. We went behind in the first half and took it to extra-time through substitute Djibril Cisse's equaliser late on. Another Cisse goal and one from Luis gave us victory without the need for any heroics from me in a penalty shoot-out.
The temptation may have been to think that this was what it would always be like, playing for a big club in a showpiece occasion and walking away with a trophy. But for me it was more about the past than it was about the future because I look upon the Super Cup, the Charity Shield and the World Club Championships as trophies for last year. What I mean by that is you only get to play in those matches because of what the team has achieved in the previous season. It is not like the FA Cup Final or the Champions League Final, which are your rewards for what you have done during that campaign. So while I was happy to pick up a medal in Monaco it did not satisfy my desire to win trophies in the slightest because I knew that the big competitions for that season - the ones that mattered most to the players, management and supporters - were still to come.
Even if I had thought that winning the Super Cup was a sign of things to come then I would have had my mind changed pretty dramatically just a month later when Chelsea beat us 4-1 at home in the Premier League. We had actually drawn 0-0 against them at Anfield in the Champions League just a few days earlier and there were no signs in that game that we were about to be on the receiving end of the kind of hiding that makes you realise how big the challenge is that you are facing. Chelsea were the English champions at the time and they were the most powerful team in the country thanks to the spending power of Roman Abramovich. It was a really bad day for us because Liverpool do not lose games 4-1 at Anfield, but after Stevie had equalised Frank Lampard's goal in the first half, Chelsea took control and we had no answers. It was a reality check for us and for me in particular because it showed how far we had to go.
Again though, the consolation was provided by our supporters because I did not see them being really angry with us, even though we had lost so heavily to one of our biggest rivals.
If that happens in Spain, then the supporters are outraged. While the Liverpool fans were not happy - they would have been crazy if they were - they still supported us all the way and did not turn on us. There are times when things go wrong on the pitch that you are still able to take something positive from the game. This was one of those occasions. It showed me that if we gave everything for Liverpool then the supporters would always be with us. That is a special feeling and it convinced me even more that I had joined a special club.
Sometimes it is the small things that help you realise that you have made the right decision. That was one of the reasons why I felt settled at Liverpool straight away. I had an instant sense of belonging and that was thanks to my team-mates, the manager, the staff and the supporters. I was more than one thousand miles away from my hometown of Cordoba, but I had never felt so at home.
I knew I had come to the right place.
Pepe Reina My Autobiography is priced £18.99 - Copyright Liverpoolfc.tv