He had Liverpool supporters chanting his name after amazing first game - then everything fell apart

"Bruno has got great skill, good vision and an eye for the pass. I don't make comparisons with Zidane lightly and I believe he can become an important player for Liverpool.

"He has the same kind of touch and style that Zidane has. There's a lot of similarities between the two when they're on the ball."

Gerard Houllier's comments caused a bit of a stir. Bruno Cheyrou had just joined Liverpool from Lille for a fee of £4m. And his new manager reached for the boldest comparison of them all to welcome him.

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But this was a club riding a winning wave of momentum, under a boss who seemingly possessed the golden touch. Houllier had led Liverpool to successive fourth, third and second-placed finishes in the league. Not forgetting, of course, that magnificent cup treble collected along the way.

On the transfer front, there was every reason to back Houllier, too. Especially in this department.

Jean-Michel Ferri may have been a curious one and Igor Biscan was usually half asleep. Houllier, though, was a man who correctly saw more mileage in Gary McAllister despite how much was already on the clock. And Dietmar Hamann cost a whole £8m more than the Scot but was an equally inspired signing.

It was clear Houllier had an eye for midfield talent. And that view was supported when Liverpool welcomed Lazio for a pre-season friendly in July 2002. This was the first glimpse the home fans got of Cheyrou. Zidane's heir apparent did not disappoint.

Anfield purred and roared at what the 24-year-old did on that Tuesday night under the lights. For me and many others present it was love at first sight. While the white boots were questionable, every touch was assured.

There were repeated snapshots of impressive control, vision and technique; an early piledriver tipped over by the Lazio keeper and another rasping drive just about collected. Before half time, chants of 'Bruno, Bruno' were already ringing around the stadium.

The thrills continued after the break, with the new recruit trying an audacious chip from just inside the box that went narrowly over.

Cheyrou ran the show for the 73 minutes he was on the pitch. He could have planted a Tricolour in the centre circle and conducted the Kop in a chorus of La Marseillaise, if he so desired.

After the final whistle, the 1-0 defeat was dismissed with a collective Gallic shrug. We spilled out of the ground safe in the knowledge that the final piece of the jigsaw had been secured.

"Reckon he's going to be great this fella. Imagine him playing behind Owen every week. He's exactly what we've been missing."

"I know, son. I know."

By the time we got back to the car, we were fully invested in our new French hero and my dad was wondering if he could get away with a beret. Sadly, all hope was soon extinguished.

Cheyrou simply never got going for the Reds.

Liverpool may have lifted the League Cup that term - but for the Frenchman personally it was a case of 29 games, one goal and plenty of unfulfilled expectations.

Houllier doubled down and insisted: "Like other French players before him, he probably needs a little more time. Remember the first season at Arsenal? Everyone laughed at Robert Pires."

Cheyrou did threaten a renaissance in the January of 2004. He scored twice against Newcastle United to knock them out of the FA Cup in a memorable late kick-off at home on a Saturday.

And he notched his first league goal in a 1-0 win at Chelsea, releasing Emile Heskey down the right and converting a pinpoint cross after bursting into the box.

But the flame only flickered briefly. Aside from another strike away to Wolves in a 1-1 draw, there was little else to get excited about.

Rafael Benitez concurred. Cheyrou was quickly shipped out on loan when the Spaniard took over - first to Marseille and later to Bordeaux - before a permanent switch to Rennes, which he completed on this day in 2006.

But we will always have that Lazio game and all the belief that brought. For more than an hour that evening, Cheyrou really did look like the next Zidane.

There was no shame in buying into it. Je ne regrette rien.

Football needs misses to balance out the hits and I would not change a thing. Except, of course, for those white boots.

*A version of this story was first published on March 28, 2020.