Ex-Wigan Athletic ace Stephen Warnock on 'sour taste' of Euro experience with Liverpool

Former Wigan Athletic captain Stephen Warnock has revealed the way he was controversially omitted from Liverpool’s Champions League-winning squad against AC Milan in 2005 still leaves him with ‘a sour taste’.
Stephen WarnockStephen Warnock
Stephen Warnock

The 38-year-old had been initially named in Rafa Benitez’s matchday squad for the Istanbul showpiece – 15 years ago this week – which saw Liverpool come back from 3-0 down to draw the final and then win the trophy on penalties. But after then being left out at the expense of Josemi – without even an explanation from Benitez – Warnock made the decision to leave his boyhood club.

“When I hear it described as being one of Liverpool’s greatest ever nights, it leaves a very sour taste,” Warnock told BBC Sport. “It still hurts now, actually – the way it was handled was absolutely shocking.

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“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.

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“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.

“The worst thing was the flight home, though. 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.

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“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.”

Warnock went on to play for a number of clubs – including Blackburn, Aston Villa, Leeds and Derby – before helping Latics win the League One title in 2015-16.