Vladimir Smicer played a pivotal role on one of Liverpool's most famous nights in 2005 - but his relationship with manager Rafa Benitez was faltering ahead of that big night in Istanbul.
Smicer would score on the night as Liverpool claimed a fifth European Cup, but it would turn out to be his final game for the club.
Speaking this week, Vladimir Smicer exclusively told Ladbrokes: Fanzone that he had fallen out with Benitez over his team selection for the final game of the season at Anfield - and recalled the cold manner in which he was shown the door at the club.
Vladimir Smicer recalls final Liverpool days
On the final day of the 2004-05 Premier League season, there was little at stake for Liverpool, and a Champions League final to come.
Vladimir Smicer expected this to be his final game at Anfield for Liverpool, and so asked manager Rafa Benitez to give him one final chance to play in front of the home fans. He said he was surprised when this request was not granted.
I went to see [Rafa] Benitez on the last game before the Champions League final, against Aston Villa in the league. He rested [Steven] Gerrard and Luis Garcia and I asked if I could play my last game at Anfield so I could say thank you to the fans. He left me out of the squad.
I told him that he had no respect for me and that after six years and that I deserved to say goodbye at Anfield. He told me that the team came first, despite the fact that we were playing for nothing. I told him what I thought and usually I would never have spoken to the managers like that. It was worth it though because he gave me my chance in the Champions League. In my eyes, Rafa and I are still friends.
Smicer did not start the Champions League final against AC Milan later that week, but was brought on as an early sub after an injury to Harry Kewell. Liverpool went in at the break 3-0 down, but sensationally recovered to force penalties and claim a famous win.
Smicer's goal - Liverpool's second - was an absolutely barnstorming finish.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 24, 2019
He also scored Liverpool's final penalty in the shootout win, and hoped that he may perhaps have done enough to have forced a late contract renewal.
When he arrived back in Liverpool, he received a cold response from the Liverpool boss Benitez:
After the Champions League trophy tour, I went to see Rafa before I flew back to Prague because I was thinking maybe he would give me a one or two-year contract. I went to see him and said, “So Rafa, I am leaving tomorrow to go to Prague and I just wanted to say goodbye and thank you for everything.” He responded, “Ok Vlady, thank you for the final and bye.”
I thought he might have said something more, but it was just that; it was sad because I care about Liverpool, they were like a family to me after six years, so it was hard to leave.
It does not paint the prettiest picture of Rafa Benitez's man management at Liverpool.
Vladimir Smicer claims that he was not the only one dissatisfied with the Spaniard's management:
Benitez was honest. He told me that February that he wouldn’t be giving me a new contract, so I guess I had prepared myself to leave. But still, I wanted to show him that I was a good player in my last four months. That was my motivation. I liked the way we trained, he prepared the team tactically. However, he would change the team too much. If we won 3-0 he would change two or three players and he was constantly doing this. If I am playing well, leave me be and let me play all the time.
I think all the players had the same mentality as me. There were always rumours that [Xabi] Alonso and [Javier] Mascherano were unhappy with it and I don’t think [Steven] Gerrard was entirely pleased either. That was the thing I didn’t like about him, but the training sessions and how he prepared the team tactically was a good experience for me and I was happy to train under him.
However his Liverpool career ended, Vladimir Smicer will forever be remembered by fans of the club for the role he played on that famous night in Istanbul.
As final games for a club go, scoring and helping your team to the European Cup isn't a bad way to depart.