Fernando Morientes knows what’s coming. Eyebrow raised, and an innocent smirk creeping across his face, the former Real Madrid and Liverpool striker steps up to the microphone to deliver his decision: which of his beloved former clubs does he want to win in Kiev on Saturday night?
“My blood is red… but my heart is white,” grins the Spaniard, sheepishly addressing the gathered crowd at Heineken’s ‘City of Champions’ event in Athens on Friday night. The 42-year-old’s decision is none too surprising, though: he did, after all, spend eight years of his life as a Real Madrid player between 1997 and 2005, winning three Champions League titles and reaching a fourth final on loan at Monaco in 2004 – incredibly, having knocked out his beloved parent club en route in the quarter-finals with a goal in each leg.
He was a Liverpool player in the Reds’ astonishing march to the 2005 trophy too, but the cup-tied striker was forced to watch on from the sidelines as his new team-mates defied all expectations to eventually life the trophy in Istanbul.
Few players, then, have such an affiliation with the Champions League as Morientes – who pulls up a pew to share his memories and looks ahead to Saturday night’s tantalising final with FFT…
My most special Champions League memory is… maybe the first game I arrived in Madrid [in 1997]; I went to the stadium and played my first Champions League game [against Rosenborg] which was amazing for me. I was playing for Real Madrid at the Bernabeu – and I scored. Incredible. After that I had a chance to win three Champions Leagues with Real Madrid. Maybe the most special was the first one, in Amsterdam against Juventus – it was the best moment for the Madridistas.
In 1998… it was amazing to play with players like Raul, Clarence Seedorf and Fernando Redondo. In that moment we actually missed experience – I was 22, Raul was 21, for example – and had young players. So to win the Champions League at the end of that year was just amazing.
I prepared for these games… in exactly the same way as any other. Honestly: there was nothing special. It’s one more game – a difficult one, sure – but you try to concentrate, to do the same things as before. But you know you have responsibility because everything is within 90 minutes. You play well and maybe you win the trophy; if you don’t, maybe you are second. Nobody wants second.
It was so nervous for me. After that, when you have experience in this type of game, everything is better for you and for the team as well. But when you play the first game in the Champions League, everything is so nervous – which is just normal I think.
Knocking out Real Madrid for Monaco in 2004… was a special moment for me, because I was on loan from Madrid and I never thought we would end up playing against them; against my team-mates, my friends. It was difficult for me, though, and hard to know my feelings during the game. When I scored at the Bernabeu it was tough, but when you’re a professional footballer you need to do the same as before no matter who it is against.
It wasn’t revenge… because when you are a professional, you know how things go. You can be sold, you can go out on loan, and it’s normal. If you play for a big club, that’s how it is: you can score, play a lot of games, but in one moment maybe the club wants to sell you and you’re out. That’s how it goes in football.
My time at Liverpool… was amazing. When you move away from Real Madrid you need to have a special offer, and for me Liverpool were that open window. The history of the club, the team, the players – there were also a lot of Spaniards there then, and it was very easy to move there. I needed to move at that moment but felt very good because Liverpool for me was like a new era.
My favourite thing about playing there was… everything… everything. The culture of playing at Liverpool is amazing; the atmosphere, the Champions League games are different in a good way. For sure the weather there isn’t nice, but the supporters are crazy for football and they make you feel good about playing for Liverpool.
The most difficult thing was… the responsibility. When you play at a club like Liverpool you know that you have a lot of it. They spent a lot of money on me and I knew that I needed to score goals and be good in each game. But for me they are special in this regard, because you can play well, you can play bad – but they will always support you. That’s amazing for the players.
Not being able to play in the 2005 run… was very, very difficult for me. I was used to playing every Wednesday in the Champions League with Real Madrid. But I was so excited to see my team-mates win in the games, get to the final in Istanbul, and then when I was there it was unbelievable. I was in the crowd watching it, but I left them to their celebrations afterwards.
I think the 2018 Champions League Final will… be an amazing game. Both teams have very good players and have had very strong seasons in the competition. They haven’t won the Premier League or La Liga, but they have done a very good job in European games. Maybe here we’ll see the best strikers in the world – Mo Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo – and the other best players in Firmino, Mané, Bale, Benzema, Modric… so many. This game is so important for the supporters, and in 90 minutes anything can happen.
What I like most about this Liverpool team is… their counter-attack. When they play this way they have so much speed with Mané, Firmino and Salah. Sometimes the ball doesn’t stop in the middle, it’s always played to the strikers, and it’s amazing to watch Liverpool’s games. They want to win every game; they don’t want to defend, it’s always about going for the win. Maybe in this final they will change because it’s a special game, but I don’t know.
Zinedine Zidane is… someone who I played with for a number of years at Real Madrid. He has the respect of the club, the respect of the players, and for me he is the best manager in the world right now. He’s changed the history of Real Madrid in the last few years and I hope he can stay there for many more. Did I ever think he would be a manager, though? No! When I was playing with him he was so calm, and you would never have thought he’d go on to be a manager. But now he’s changed his mentality. He wasn’t thinking about being a manager at that time.
For his 2002 Champions League Final goal… I remember I was close to him on the pitch; close to Raul too. When he went to try his volley we both went close to the goalkeeper, trying to get the second ball. But when we saw the ball inside the goal? It was impossible. It was the goal of the year, but we’ll be remembering it in 20 years too.
City of Champions is an immersive UEFA Champions League Final experience brought to fans by Heineken. Athens is famous for its rich history as a stage for memorable moments and heroism, and a fitting location as the host destination of Heineken’s City of Champions for 2018. Heineken believes that every UEFA Champions League match delivers the same drama and emotion as a blockbuster film, written live by the best players in the world - and deserves to be shared among friends, over a Heineken.