On May 25, 2005, Liverpool FC were 3-0 down to A.C. Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final. Betting at half-time made Liverpool 359-1 to win. No team had ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in a major final. In the second half, Liverpool scored three goals in six minutes, then won the cup in a penalty shootout. The Rashomon effect is in evidence in the autobiographical reflections of the men involved in the match. Rafael Benítez had stunned the squad and fans by leaving midfielder Didi Hamann out of the starting lineup. Hamman had played in the entire European campaign, and he’d played in the 2002 World Cup Final for Germany.
Dietmar Hamann, Midfielder:
‘There was a quietness on the bench the like of which I had not experienced before. Partly we were in awe of what Milan were doing and partly we were puzzled thinking, ‘What’s gone wrong?’ When the third goal went in I thought, ‘Well thank fuck I’m not playing.’
We all trudged to the dressing room. There was chatter among the players, but nobody was chatting about anything other than what they thought was happening out there. Rafa walked in looking quite calm. I think he had already made up his mind about what he was going to do the moment the third goal went in.
He looked over at me. ‘Kaiser, you get ready, you are coming on. Then he turned to Djimi Traore and said, ‘Djimi, you are coming off, go and get showered.’ Rafa reacted in exactly the same way as he did when he made substitutions any on any other day.
The Didi Man: My Love Affair with Liverpool, Dietmar Hamann, Headline Publishing Group, 2012
Jamie Carragher, Defender, Vice-captain:
Nothing was said by the players as we returned to the dressing room. A mythical fifteen minutes in the Liverpool legend was upon us, but it didn’t feel that way. The trickiest test in such circumstances is ensuring you don’t give up. It would have been easy for us to accept our ambitions were in tatters, that nine months of toil were going to end in catastrophe. Mentally we were all over the place, but I knew it wasn’t in my nature to accept this fate. No matter how bad it was, we were going to have to face up to our responsibilities.
Fortunately, there was at least one sane head in the room prepared to restore our battered spirits. In that Attaturk dressing room Rafa Benítez cemented his place in Anfield folklore.
My admiration for his handling of the situation is unlimited. Rafa’s conduct rarely changed, regardless of the circumstances. His calm demeanor was never required more than now. Privately, he must have felt the same as us. He too couldn’t have failed to think of his family, or what the people of Spain would be making of his side’s battering. Here he was, still struggling with his English, trying to instruct us to achieve the impossible.
‘Good luck,’ I thought to myself.
Carra: My Autobiography, Jamie Carragher, Bantam Press, 2008
Steven Gerrard, Midfielder, Captain:
Gradually, players began to speak. No recriminations. No blame. Just general laments. ‘Fucking hell lads, what’s going on?’ I said. ‘Rafa told us to be compact, to not make mistakes. There is only one side in this. We haven’t even started.’ Some of the guys were in pieces. Surely there was no way we could score three goals against Milan, not after the way they played first half? ‘Let’s just stop this being 5-0,’ said Carra. ‘Let’s not have a massacre here.’
The boss was brilliant, truly brilliant, at half-time. ‘Silence,’ he said. All the murmurings and the moanings ceased. We looked up at the manager, wondering how he was going to change tactics to perform a miracle. ‘Finnan off, Didi on,’ Rafa said, rattling out orders. ‘Three at the back. Didi alongside Xabi, but more defensive. The two of you sort out Kaka. Vladi, play like a wing-back rather than right midfield. Steven, play a bit more forward. You and Luis link up with Baros. Pirlo’s not very mobile; get either side of him, and stop him playing. Get either side of Seedorf– he’s not very mobile. Get at their players. Close them down earlier. And keep the ball.’ Just listening to the boss’s escape plan lifted our spirits. Rafa was our leader, the man who could help us out of this mess.
Gerrard: My Autobiography, Steven Gerrard, Bantam Press, 2006
Rafael Benítez, Manager:
These are the times that measure you as a manager, when the world is falling apart, when all that you have worked for over the course of a long, gruelling season seems lost. These are the moments when you need your players to have faith in you. This is when you stand or fall.
I did not have a long speech prepared for the players. My notes from the game show there was one message I wanted to drill into them. It is written in Spanish.
Fight for it.
Champions League Dreams, Rafa Benitez, Headline Publishing Group, 2012