When Liverpool played their last league game of the season just under two weeks ago, Vladimir Smicer wasn’t selected by Rafael Benitez. After the game the Czech star went on the farewell walk around the stadium with the other players as the Liverpool fans wished the team luck on their adventure to Turkey. Some time later, when the fans had left the stadium, Smicer took another walk around the ground, saying his own silent farewell to a ground he’s played in for six years.
The sadness he felt that day was probably made worse due to him not being able to say a playing farewell to the stadium. 10 days later that feeling changed. An early injury to Harry Kewell meant that Rafa Benitez was forced into making a change to his team. When Kewell moved to Anfield from Leeds in a cut-price deal, one of his requests (or demands, depending on who you speak to) was that he be given the number seven shirt. Vladimir Smicer was the holder of the shirt at the time, but he was happy to change from seven to eleven for the benefit of the Australian. Now in the Ataturk stadium the fourth official was holding the board up to announce that seven was being changed to eleven – Kewell being replaced by Smicer.
Liverpool’s comeback on Wednesday night started with a headed goal from Steven Gerrard, but it was Smicer’s goal – Liverpool’s second and a spectacular strike – that told Liverpool fans that they might just get back into this game. Liverpool only needed to score three of their penalties in the shoot-out at the end of extra time – and Smicer put himself forward to take one. His delight in scoring was plain for all to see.
Now Vladi has revealed that he went out on the town to celebrate afterward with Liverpool fans. Taksim Square in Istanbul was effectively Liverpool soil for the night, and Smicer wanted to get out there with the supporters. He said: "I celebrated with the largest cigar you have ever seen. I went with the fans to dance in the streets. It was incredible to be with the fans. I just wanted to share with them what I felt. It was the greatest night of our lives."
Like many Liverpool fans that night, Smicer revealed that he didn’t get any sleep at – he didn’t even go to bed! He said: "I didn’t go to bed at all. There is no need for sleep after a night like this. I just wanted to go out on a high, and I am proud I showed I can play. "
Smicer must have felt pretty downhearted when he was told that his contract wouldn’t be renewed at Anfield, thinking that he may just slip away early for a holiday before finding a new club. He said: "I was told two months ago that I wouldn’t be getting a new contract and I asked the manager if he’d need me, or could I go on holiday. He said that I was still needed, and that’s all I wanted to hear. I love Liverpool, both of my children were born here, and it’s very difficult to leave."
Benitez is unlikely to let sentiment get in his way as he starts to make changes to his squad in the summer, but if a vote was taken on whether Smicer should be given another year, there’d probably be a sizeable majority of fans saying that Vladi should stay.
Smicer would love to stay, but a year ago another player, Michael Owen, left Anfield to see if the grass at Real Madrid was greener than in Liverpool. One of his main reasons for leaving was to pick up some major honours – but Real finished the season without a trophy. He’s very philosophical about it though, and is pleased to see the team that he’ll always support getting the success: "Who knows if they would have got to the final if I was leading the attack or if I would have done things differently from Milan Baros. People will say my timing for leaving Anfield was suspect but how was I, or anyone else, to know that Liverpool were about to go on the most incredible run to the final?"
Liverpool’s last amazing comeback in a Cup Final was in 2001 when Owen scored twice to win the FA Cup for Liverpool against Arsenal at Cardiff. This season Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle and Owen points out how quickly things change in football: "A few months ago when they had been knocked out of the FA Cup at Burnley and were struggling outside the Champions League places, people were speculating that it might be a disastrous season for Liverpool. There are so many turning points but now that they have come good I am thrilled for some of my old colleagues such as Stevie Gerrard, Didi Hamann and Jamie Carragher. I hope it does kick-start a great new era for Liverpool."