BENFICA LEGEND WHO GOT AWAY FROM LIVERPOOL
‘Do you remember me?!’ is how Simao Sabrosa greets when he arrives for this interview.
There’s a reason for such a remark.
In another world, Simao would have been a Liverpool player, helping them defend their Champions League title in 2006.
Reality, though, had the Benfica winger as an instrumental figure in relieving the Reds’ grip on the trophy.
The 2005/2006 campaign was the last time Liverpool and Benfica met in Europe’s premier club competition.
Ahead of the upcoming quarter-final, the ex-captain of the Lisbon outfit looks back on just how close he came to an Anfield switch in the summer of ’05.
“At that time I’m in the national team, three or four days until the end [of the window],” Simao recalls to Liverpoolfc.com
“I received a call at like five o’clock in the morning, ‘You need to come, we go to Liverpool.’
“I go to [Luiz Felipe] Scolari and the director of the national team to give me permission to go out.
“When I go to the office of my agent, in that moment the president of Benfica called and said, ‘We don’t have a deal, you don’t have permission to fly, so you need to stay.’
“It’s strange because I thought it was done. But when the president went home, he called again and said, ‘It’s impossible to fly to Liverpool and get a new contract with Liverpool, so you need to stay. Because if you sign for Liverpool, Benfica fans will be angry [with me].’ At that time I said, ‘OK, I stay.’
“The office of my agent is near the airport and the agent gave me some impression, ‘Let’s go to the airport. When we arrive in Liverpool, maybe the president says yes.’
“I said, ‘No, it’s impossible to take the plane and fly to Liverpool.’ I was representing the national team and if I take this decision, I have a lot of problems with the national team, my club, so I decided to stay.”
Even now, there remains an element of ‘what if?’ in Simao’s mind had the transfer not fallen through.
“My dream never happened,” he admits. “In professional football, my dream is to play in the Premier League. I had played in the Portuguese league and the Spanish league – but this sometimes happens.
“I’m a lucky man because I think I deserved my career, because I worked every day and I was privileged to play in big clubs – Benfica, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and also the national team.
“My dream never happened. All players want to play in the Premier League.”
He would come to haunt Liverpool when they were paired with Benfica in the last 16 of the Champions League some six months later.
A late Luisao goal gave the then-Portuguese champions a 1:0 advantage in the first leg, though there was confidence of another European turnaround at Anfield.
But Simao saved what he ranks as the best goal of his career to help eliminate the hosts.
A stunning curling effort in front of the Kop left Pepe Reina with no chance, before Fabrizio Miccoli’s late finish added insult to injury for those of a Liverpool persuasion.
When the draw was completed for this season’s last eight in March, the memories of that night inevitably came to Simao again.
“For me, I’d say it’s my best goal,” he smiles. “We had 20 difficult minutes at Anfield. I think it was the first time the team had the ball and organised a good way to score.
“Nuno Gomes had an important moment because when I received the ball, Nuno Gomes continued the movement and gave me space to come inside and score. I know Reina because I played with him but I think Reina didn’t have a chance to stop this goal!
“After the game, when we went inside the dressing room, the Benfica fans called us again and we came out. Liverpool fans stayed in the stadium – this is impressive.”