A FEW years ago it was hard not to flick a wry smile at the litany of former Anfield failures playing in the Champions League while Liverpool trudged through the Europa League. Christian Poulsen, Ryan Babel, Milan Jovanovic; they were all there, mocking the club’s stagnation from afar, on the stage they barely deserved to grace.
Thankfully that is now a thing of the past, but this summer’s jaunt in Brazil will see a number of former Liverpool players, many of them no more than an after-thought these days, on the greatest stage of them all.
World Cups don’t hold the mystique they used to – Nicklas Bendtner scored at the last one after all – as well as Anfield rejects Mark Gonzalez and Milan Jovanovic.
Astonishingly, at the last World Cup in South Africa Liverpool were the most represented English club alongside then league champions Chelsea with 12, despite the horrors of the 2009-10 season. It began with Rafa Benitez deposed the week before, and ended with Roy Hodgson at the helm. Four years later, you can’t help but look back with pangs of relief than despair.
In Brazil a number of unlikely faces will return into the collective consciousness of Liverpool fans, as well as some rather more familiar ones. Little more needs to be said of Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt, the cornerstone of the 2008-9 season.
Former understudy to Pepe Reina, Diego Cavalieri is on Brazil’s standby list, an unexpected rise for a goalkeeper who never played a Premier League game for the club, while Mark Gonzalez narrowly missed out on selection for Chile. Harry Kewell announced his retirement in March at the age of 35, robbing us of a glorious swansong with a doomed Australia. So what of the others who are jetting off to Brazil?
CHARLES ITANDJE – CAMEROON
Few former Liverpool players are as widely disliked for non-footballing reasons as Charles Itandje. His reputation as a loveably flappy, dodgy reserve goalkeeper, very much in the mould of Peggy Arphexad, was irretrievably tarnished by his inappropriate behaviour during the Hillsborough Memorial service in April 2009. He was suspended by the club and never played another game – be it at senior or reserve level.
The Frenchman has traversed through the Greek and Turkish leagues since his departure before being cleared by FIFA to play for Cameroon; his debut came in 2013, and he will enter the World Cup as their number one.
CARL MEDJANI – ALGERIA
You’d be forgiven for not remembering Carl Medjani. He never played for the club, but was signed in that fateful summer of 2003 from Saint-Etienne along with fellow French protégées Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Football Manager sensation Anthony Le Tallec. He captained France at the U-21 Toulon tournament in 2006, but has since switched allegiances to Algeria, making their preliminary squad for the 2010 World Cup.
Since his departure from Anfield in 2006, Medjani has played for Lorient, Ajaccio and is now at Monaco, despite spending the past season on loan at Valenciennes. Medjani is expected to line up as a starting centre-back for Algeria as they look to negotiate their way through Group H against Belgium, Russia and South Korea.
GABRIEL PALETTA – ITALY
Before Sebastian Coates failed to make the transition from being a South American centre-back into a European one, there was Gabriel Paletta. The Argentine was signed in the summer of 2006 with an eye on the future, having impressed in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship alongside Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
First-team opportunities on Merseyside were rare as he played fourth fiddle to Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger, but he did little to enhance his chances when given the opportunity, with his unforgettable role in Arsenal’s 6-3 League Cup quarter final rout at Anfield still fresh in the memory.
Paletta was moved to Boca Juniors in 2007, an arrangement that saw Emiliano Insua come to Anfield, before signing for Serie A side Parma in 2010. In possession of an Italian passport by virtue of his great-grandfather – the third former Liverpool player to be naturalised at this World Cup – Paletta was handed his first cap during a 1-0 defeat to Spain in March.
Look out for his commendable unwillingness to submit to his fast receding hairline this summer.
ALBERTO AQUILANI – ITALY
Four years ago Alberto Aquilani was overlooked by Marcelo Lippi as he looked to defend Italy’s 2006 triumph (that went well), but the midfielder’s reputation has been suitably rehabilitated since a permanent return to his homeland in 2012.
There are those who will forever quibble with the Italian’s price tag and his suitability to Liverpool, but his technical ability and tactical awareness should not be in question. After various loan spells with Juventus and AC Milan he has found form and a new home in Florence. After representing Italy at last summer’s Confederations Cup, the Fiorentina man goes into this one as a squad player, behind Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo, Danielle de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo in the pecking order.
MAXI RODRIGUEZ – ARGENTINA
Maxi remains universally adored by the Anfield faithful, and he will be running down the wing for us in Brazil. The Argentine has unforgettable previous in the World Cup, having struck a thunderous winning volley against Mexico in 2006.
His Anfield career was all too sweet and all too short, but his evergreen excellence has ensured him a spot as one of only four Argentine-based players in Alejandro Sabella’s squad. After being an integral part of the 2006 squad that reached the quarter-finals, Maxi is likely to play a reduced role this time around due to Argentina’s plethora of attacking options. Maxi is no spring chicken, but at 33 there is still life in the old dog yet.
RAUL MEIRELES – PORTUGAL
Raul Meireles joined Liverpool on the back of the last World Cup in South Africa, where he scored in Portugal’s emphatic 8-0 victory over North Korea.
The Portuguese’s penchant for striking tattoos, ludicrous haircuts and bushy facial hair has hardly waned since his departure in 2011, if anything it’s grown during his two-year spell at Fenerbache. Unlike Roy Hodgson, Paolo Bento knows how to maximise Meireles’ maverick talent and he will likely line-up in a midfield three alongside Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso.
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda