I knocked on Liverpool’s manager’s door numerous times, requesting to go, but he departed, and I discovered my salvation

According to liverpoolecho, there are several reasons why Liverpool’s amazing fifth European Cup victory will be remembered and embraced by fans for as long as the club exists. The miraculous comeback from three goals down at halftime against a star-studded AC Milan side, the Reds regaining their crown as European Champions after a long 21-year wait, and Rafa Benitez’s side blunting Everton fans’ taunts about finishing above Liverpool and qualifying for the Champions League play-offs, to name a few.

That redeeming component also applies to several of the Liverpool players who wrote themselves into history on that wild night in the Turkish capital. Nobody could ever credibly claim that the Reds’ 2005 season was among the club’s best in terms of ability – or even in the top ten – but the fact that such a limited squad was able to defy the odds and defeat a clearly superior outfit of proven winners only adds to the luster in the eyes of many.

As does the fact that several members of the squad who led the Reds to victory had long been written off as duds, including one much-maligned defender who had only months earlier become a figure of ridicule after a high-profile, hall-of-fame own goal but was picked up off the floor by an inspiring pep talk from a teammate who knew all too well how it felt to have your name become a punchline.

Djimi Traore, who turns 44 today, was only 18 when he arrived at Anfield in February 1999 as one of Gerard Houllier’s first signings as Liverpool manager. The Frenchman had only taken sole charge of the Reds three months earlier after initially joining the club in an ill-fated partnership alongside Boot Room stalwart Roy Evans, and he wasted little time in returning to his home country as he began his Anfield revolution, paying £1.5 million within weeks to rescue former Nantes.

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The Reds manager prioritized defensive reinforcements, spending £700,000 on Lillestrøm’s giant Norwegian stopper Frode Kippe and using his knowledge as the French Football Federation’s technical director to sign Cameroon center-back Rigobert Song, who had previously played four seasons with Metz before moving to Salernitana in Italy.

Although Traore had only made a few appearances after breaking through at his local club, Stade Lavallois, the teenager – who could play both centre-half and left-back – had already piqued the interest of Paris St Germain, AC Milan, Parma, and Lazio, and Houllier wasted no time in securing a £550,000 deal to bring him to Merseyside as a future star, declaring to the Liverpool public via the press after the deal was completed: “You’ll thank me for signing him.” It would be the start of the following season before the manager felt he was ready for a first-team debut, and while the young defender started both legs of the Reds’ League Cup second-round tie with Hull City, those would be his only appearances until nearly a year later, on the first day of the 2000-01 season, when he started the first five Premier League matches at left-back.

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