Alvaro Arbeloa admits he is relishing the opportunity to return to Liverpool with Real Madrid tomorrow evening, more than five years after leaving the club, in an interview with the Guardian.
The Spaniard was sold to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for just £3.5million, after two-and-a-half seasons as the Reds first choice right back.
Arbeloa watched from the bench in May as Real Madrid were crowned European Champions for the 10th time, and admits the toughest moment of his career came with Liverpool in the competition back in 2007.
“Suffering injuries is hard but one of the most difficult moments for me was the defeat in the final in Athens with Liverpool,” said the 31-year-old.
“I’ve lost in the semi-finals four times but I always thought about the missed opportunity in Athens.”
Never-the-less, Arbeloa is relishing the opportunity to return to Anfield, revealing his former teammate at both Liverpool and Real Madrid Xabi Alonso got in touch with him straight after the draw was made.
“When they opened up that little ball and the piece of paper inside said “Liverpool”, I said: ‘Group B’. I knew we’d be drawn against them.” Well, I don’t know if I knew it or if I just really wanted it,” he said.
“Moments after the draw, my phone rang. It was Xabi and he was fuming. “Bloody hell, typical. How unlucky am I?’”
“I’ve told everyone this is an opportunity they shouldn’t miss,” he continued. “They’re used to a stadium that holds 80,000, sure, but Anfield is la bomba, unique. It’s only 45,000 and they say: ‘Well … ’ and I say: ‘Well?’ Those 45,000 make the atmosphere very, very special. I’ve told them to enjoy it. I can imagine what Anfield will be like, how they’ll sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and cheer every corner or throw-in close to our area as if it’ll end in a goal – and I know it’ll feel like that to us.
“Going back to Liverpool after five years will be very special. I spent two wonderful years there and I got used to a new culture.
“I grew a lot, both as a player and as a person. It will be great but not just for me: I have told my team-mates to enjoy the match at Anfield as much as possible.
“Champions League nights and big games like this one at Anfield are very special.
“We’re going to be up against a team that will come out to fight to the last and will give everything, because they need to win too.”
Arbeloa’s Liverpool debut came during the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 2007, and the Spaniard admits it is a game he still remembers fondly – despite the fact he was tasked with marking Lionel Messi in an unfamiliar left back role.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was training at Melwood and Rafa [Benítez] came over. ‘Left back’. Left? Marking Messi. I stood looking at him, waiting for him to start laughing. This has to be a joke but I saw he was deadly serious. I thought: ‘madre mía.’ The idea was that I’d be strong on my right when Messi came inside, so we went to Portugal [for a training camp] and I was left-back every day, preparing.
“That was the famous golfing week… Rafa had given us a curfew: 1am or 2am. There was a lively dinner then me and [Javier] Mascherano sang some Spanish song on the karaoke. I can’t remember what, something so bad I wiped it from my memory. Anyway, the time came and us new players left. The others stayed and the golf club thing happened. I escaped. I heard about it the next day and couldn’t believe it but of course [Craig] Bellamy played well, scored, and celebrated with the golf stroke. [John Arne] Riise played well, too.”
“It was my first game in the starting line-up and my debut in the Champions League,” he said.
“What more can you ask, having come up through the ranks of the Real Madrid youth system, than to make your debut at the Camp Nou and win there?
“It was a magic, special night, playing for a great club and wearing the shirt of the European champions. We played a fantastic match.”
And should Arbeloa feature on Wednesday evening, the full back plans to keep with a tradition he always did during his time at Anfield.
“Then you leave the dressing room and see ‘This is Anfield’. That sign’s the incarnation of a spirit, a way of preparing yourself as you head on to the pitch,” he said. “I would reach up and touch it before every game – and I’ll do the same on Wednesday night.”