Blast from the Past no.32: Igor Biscan

Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

“The new Zinedine Zidane” is a tag that has been recklessly attached to a plethora of promising midfielders in the past two decades, but few could have been less suitable for this accolade than Igor Biscan.

A name that primarily evokes images of a lumbering, lanky figure, lurching around Liverpool’s defence in a manner not entirely dissimilar to his hunchbacked namesake from Frankenstein’s castle, Igor was not a player synonymous with Gallic flair.

Yet of all people it was a Frenchman, the former Reds’ manager Gerard Houllier, who boasted that he had snared the “Croatian Zidane” when Biscan moved to Anfield from his hometown club Dinamo Zagreb in December 2000. The 22-year-old had allegedly been signed from under the noses of Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan, so the sense of excitement was understandable - and the early signs were encouraging

“I remember his debut against Ipswich when he came on as a sub. He was excellent, made loads of good touches and looked really promising,” recalled one fan on the LFC Reds forum, before adding ominously, “But the reality was a lot different.”

Despite the potential Biscan had shown as a central midfielder in his debut half-campaign, including impressive displays against Arsenal and Manchester United which quickly endeared him to the fans, Houllier was evidently unconvinced by his Zidane-like qualities and decided he should play in defence instead.

With Sami Hyppia and Stephane Henchoz established as Houllier’s preferred pairing at the back, Biscan’s opportunities became limited – and harrowing when they did sporadically arrive.

“He had an awful season,” confirmed another Reds fan, which was slightly inaccurate because in fact Biscan had about three awful seasons.

“He was in and out of the team, never really showcasing his talents,” said a fellow Koppite, with another describing Biscan as “a brutal player in all but about two of his appearances” – brutal in this instance being meant in a thoroughly negative sense.

With a regular starting place proving beyond him, the Croatian soon became burdened with the dreaded status as Houllier’s “utility player”. If not filling in at centre-back, he was drafted in to play full-back or even on the wing. Basically, everywhere except his favoured position of central midfield, where he was variously kept out by Steven Gerrard, Dietmar Hamman or Gary McCallister.

Biscan actually managed 39 games in the 2003/04 season, but if anything the regular gametime served only to diminish his reputation.

Gerrard held him personally responsible for Liverpool’s elimination from the Uefa Cup quarter-finals, writing scathingly in his autobiography: “Biscan made a stupid mistake and got sent off. Marseille took over and we were out, thanks to Biscan. Liverpool would have won the Uefa Cup that year but for that tit’s shirtpulling.”

Under normal circumstances, being deemed “that tit” by the club’s greatest legend of modern times should have been enough to finish off Biscan’s Anfield career.

But the following campaign would turn out to be anything but normal, and the arrival of new boss Rafa Benitez in 2004 triggered a change in the player’s fortunes.

Alas, he didn’t suddenly start playing like Zidane, but in October of that year - almost four years after his arrival at Anfield – he did score his first Premiership goal, a fine 20-yard strike after coming on as an 89th-minute substitute in a 4-2 win at Fulham.

Two weeks later, injuries to Gerrard and Xabi Alonso saw Biscan suddenly thrust back into the starting line-up for a Champions League match at Deportivo – and for once he was deployed in central midfield.

“Biscan was effectively sh*** but he had the odd decent game here and there, notably against Deportivo,” summarised one Liverpool fan.

A solid display in that 1-0 win helped the Reds scrape through the group stages, but it was in the knockout phase that Biscan really came into his own.

Despite continuing to use him sparingly in the league, Benitez made Biscan his go-to man in Europe – the player’s midfield solidity chiming perfectly with the manager’s strategy of grinding out results against technically superior opponents.

Apart from the final, Biscan started every Champions League knockout match in that famous run - a telling contribution that Liverpool fans will never forget.

“I’ll be eternally fond of every single player who played a part in winning us Number 5, however limited they or their contributions were. And Igor played in some massive, massive games on the road to Istanbul,” gushed one Scouser.

Heroic performances against Juventus in Turin, where the Gerrard-less Reds qualified with a 0-0 draw, and two gruelling semi-final legs against Chelsea cemented Biscan’s place in Reds folklore and sent the previous three seasons sinking into irrelevance.

Although he was an unused substitute in the glorious final victory against Milan, he received a well-deserved winners’ medal, along with the added kudos of his penis momentarily featuring in video footage that emerged from the jubilant Reds’ dressing room.

Biscan is in fact in an elite band of footballers who have twice unwittingly displayed their genitals to the public - the previous time captured on camera while he was jostling with Everton’s Lee Carsley in the Merseyside derby.

Istanbul proved to be Biscan’s final triumphant act in a Liverpool shirt (if not in Liverpool shorts), after which he had an undistinguished spell at Panathinaikos before finishing his career back at Dinamo.

He retired in 2012, but was back in the media spotlight in 2015 when he was found guilty of causing bodily harm after he headbutted a taxi driver in Croatia.

Not the most auspicious ending, but at least he was finally like Zidane.

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