"I'd like to especially thank you for making up a song for me and you should know that every time I heard you singing it, it was like an extra injection of strength and motivation, even helping me to overcome pain occasionally during a game." - Luis Garcia, 21st August 2007
An esteemed friend of mine once wisely decreed that “people who don’t love Luis Garcia, don’t love puppy dogs and Christmas.” It’s rare that a truer word has been spoken in relative jest.
But my friend was right. It is indeed entirely unpleasant when a puppy dog soils your brand new carpet, but the adorable little critters bring so much captivating, intangible magic to the home. How could you not love them? And, of course, who likes having to be cordial to cousins at Christmas time? But good presents, great food and spending the season with those you love make it a happy time for most.
Often described as the most frustrating player ever to wear a Liverpool shirt, Luis Garcia brought immeasurable joy during his three-year stay on Merseyside. But he was an enigmatic and often-paradoxical figure that long divided opinions among the most knowledgeable of Reds.
So now, following his departure, how many of you faithful readers can hand on heart say that your memories of Luis Garcia will comprise mostly of the odd wasted pass, a missed sitter, and the occasional fancy piece of attempted trickery that went awry? One suspects, unless Cruella de Vil or Ebenezer Scrooge have taken out a recent subscription to TLW, few hands will be raised.
He is without question the most loveable footballer I've encountered in my time following the Reds. I adore the little guy. He’s the type of footballer who has this uncanny habit of making you smile. His permanent beaming, wide grin, his happy-go-lucky demeanour and most of all the wonderful, wonderful moments he provided us with that will forever be etched into the memory.
But where do you start? He's been a human highlight reel for the last three years. The vision of him wheeling away in celebration against Chelsea on the greatest Anfield occasion most of us have witnessed can never, ever be taken from us. Regardless of the nation's historical revisionists who have constantly attempted to cheapen that moment, it is his; it is ours. His goal against Juventus in the previous round easily ranks among the best we've ever scored in Europe. Combined with three more goals in the second round tie with Bayer Leverkusen it affords him a deserved place in history, to be watched over and over on compilation DVDs. He's right there alongside Dalglish, Souness, Heighway, Hansen, Kennedy, Keegan, Yeats, Fairclough, Rush, Gerrard, the greats.
The FA Cup semi final goal against Chelsea will be replayed for generations. He may have been unfortunate to miss the final through suspension, but that wonderful trademark dipping volley did as much to win that trophy as his captain's famous effort in Cardiff a month later. With all passed time now and forever dominated by short highlights, history will smile fondly on the Liverpool career of one Luis Garcia.
Contemporarily, this wasn't always the case. Chastised, especially away from Anfield, for a perceived wastefulness, a lack of discipline in tracking back, his slight frame, and a propensity to trifle with the exotic when the simple would suffice had him labelled as a deeply flawed genius from day one.
Early comparisons to Kenny Dalglish in the local media following his scoring Anfield debut against Norwich were unhelpful; placing a heavy and burdening crown on his head. He would eventually shed these shackles and become a worthy King - King Luis, but not before spells as a pauper in the eyes of many.
One week he could be darling of the internet forums, the next he was one of the worst players ever to pull on the shirt. People loved him, but frustration reigned. These bouts of frustration were often duly cancelled out by a wonderful and/or crucial goal just moments later. Thirty in total he managed for the club in 118 outings.
During his second season many of the criticised aspects of his game improved hugely. He toughened up and became a Premiership footballer; he made better use of the ball and amplified his reputation for important goals. Being a man to step up on the big stage, his second Anfield derby goal in two years was inevitable. The previous year he had nodded home the rebound from Morientes' majestic volley against the crossbar, before completing the match in immense pain after he picked up a knock with the Reds having used all their subs.
In 2005/6 he was the hero again. Harshly reduced to 10-men with Gerrard sent off early on, Lil' Luis' beautiful lob sent the Reds into an unassailable 2-0 lead shortly after half time. Later that campaign came the poached last minute winner against Arsenal at Anfield and one of the loudest singings of a player's name I can ever remember in the famous old stadium.
He drinks sangria,
He came from Barca to bring us joy,
He's 5ft 7 of football heaven,
So please don't take my Luis away.”
There's something about that song that just fits Garcia so well. It's just a really enjoyable song to sing - akin to watching him play. You also get the sense that he just enjoyed playing for us so much. Let it continue to echo around Anfield, even in his absence.
Questions remained about his week in week out contributions but we were in the midst of a love affair, with a player plucked, as one of Rafa's first signings, from the fringes of a Barcelona team in transition. He is the most gifted footballer Benitez has brought to the club so far. This mutual adoration is set to continue for years to come after the fabulous letter addressed to his "Dear Reds" on 21st August 2007 – leaving me speechless just moments after I began writing this tribute. I read that letter three times today and each time the tears flowed. How could they not: "Back then (In 2004) Liverpool Football Club gave me the opportunity to be part of an ambitious plan to put the Reds back at the summit of the game. I think that together we managed to achieve that."
He goes on…
"Your support allowed me to settle quickly at both the club and in the city, and you made me feel really at ease with you all right from the word go; that's the kind of help that you notice most of all during the difficult times, of which there have been a few during my time here.
I'd like to especially thank you for making up a song for me and you should know that every time I heard you singing it, it was like an extra injection of strength and motivation, even helping me to overcome pain occasionally during a game.
Your unconditional support is the thing that ensures that this team manages to pull through in the most difficult circumstances; and I can assure you that the whole squad is aware of this and thanks you for it. A football club isn't just made up of players, coaches and directors. More than anything else it's the supporters who make a club, and that perhaps is the ingredient which best distinguishes Liverpool Football Club from every other team. The supporters. Because if one thing has remained obvious to me after these few years, it's that with supporters like you, Liverpool Football Club will never walk alone.
I really hope that the club wins lots of major trophies in the future; I'll be following it all from a distance, with the pride that you can only get from having been a Red and played for the home team at Anfield – a ground that every football fan must visit at least once in their life.
Thank you for everything. Yours most sincerely,
Your friend, Luís García"
I wanted to pick sections out of this, rather than quote it verbatim. But please indulge me. It's an honour to have these words within my article. No amount of paraphrasing could do them justice. Class. It's something we've come to disassociate with the modern footballer. Class and heart.
We didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to him after his Anfield career was curtailed through a cruciate ligament injury on an all-round terrible night at Anfield against Arsenal. He was a peripheral figure in an injury hit final campaign, but this letter erases that ill feeling. I was desperately sad to see him leave but we can only hope his untimely exit can be rectified by regular visits back home to Anfield on his weekends off from his new club Atletico Madrid. I think it's safe to see the red half of Liverpool has a new favourite team in Spain.
In the end, you can't spell ‘Gracias’ without Garcia, so thank you for the memories and good luck. We will miss you Luis Javier Garcia Sanz – European Champion. Legend.