After the extraordinary events of 25 May 2005, the single word "Istanbul" will forever hold a special meaning for Liverpool Football Club. So a first return there since that momentous day would have its attractions under any circumstances. To be going back, on Tuesday week, with first place in this season's Champions' League group assured and the fate of opponents Galatasaray equally irrevocable (they are certain to finish bottom of the section) constitutes a uniquely relaxed opportunity for an English team visiting Turkey.
While players, officials and supporters will wallow in the memory of the final against Milan in the same Ataturk Stadium, however, all three groups know there is a balance to be achieved between looking back with pride (and quite possibly lingering disbelief) and resting on laurels. That much was acknowledged in the wake of victory over PSV Eindhoven last Wednesday by the captain, Steven Gerrard, who must feel that for much of the past 18 months he has been repeating the emotional appeal he made to Liverpool fans on his way back to the halfway line after cutting Milan's lead to 3-1 on that famous night: get behind us and believe.
"I'll never forget the feeling of lifting the trophy and the fans will never forget 2005," he said. "That feeling will never go away. But as a player you can't dwell on lifting trophies in the past, you've got to want more in the future. I want to do it again and the team want to do it again. It's easy to live off it and milk it. But that's when you stop being hungry, when you dwell on the past. The most important thing is to be successful this season."
For the third year running under Rafa Benitez, the autumn leaves have fallen without Liver-pool making any impression in the Premiership table, the manager's constant early-season rotation having an unsettling effect before the benefits - so he maintains - kick in later on. The eventual outcome has been success in the final of the Champions' League and then the FA Cup, both on penalties, but it was significant that on the day before the PSV game, Benitez felt compelled to talk up his career record in unusually immodest fashion, employing words like "amazing" and "fantastic", and concluding: "I don't see too many managers in England with a Champions' League trophy in their cabinet." Eat your heart out, Messrs Wenger and Mourinho.
But for those who have been on Merseyside rather longer, like Gerrard, the hurt of seeing the full stop after Liverpool's 18th title win in 1990 cannot now be entirely erased by collecting any other silverware. In the case of the Whiston boy, pain is compounded by having witnessed Chelsea dancing up and down with the Premiership pot for two seasons running when he twice agonised over whether to join them and decided against.
A genuine belief that Liverpool could push them much harder this time has been undermined by a desperate run of one goal and no victories in seven away games, and Gerrard is even prepared to admit that the League title looks beyond his team once more: "We won't give up on the League, we'll keep fighting away and trying to finish as high as possible, but after the disappointing start, if we're realistic we've got to try even harder in the cups now. Because of our away form in the League, there's extra pressure on players to deliver a trophy."
At least there are three of them to go for. Arsenal, probably under-strength, await in the Carling Cup quarter-finals, the defence of the FA Cup begins in the new year and victory over PSV ensured being seeded in the Champions' League knockout phase. "We were favourites to win the group, but we had to make sure we were the best side and I think we've proved that," said Gerrard, who was finally granted his wish in the last couple of games to play in the centre of midfield.
"I don't think it gives you an advantage in who you play because the teams are so difficult, but you've got a slight advantage playing the second leg at home. At home we try to press teams, win the ball high up the field and play at a pace that's difficult for opponents. We feel if we get the right result away from home we can beat anyone."
Chelsea, reluctantly, and Juventus will testify to that. They were victims at Anfield in the second phase two seasons ago to set up the night of nights in Istanbul. "This is a massive competition," Gerrard enthuses. "You've seen the reaction in the city when we won it in 2005, so it would go crazy again.
"It'll be nice to go back and see the stadium again and I'm sure it'll bring back memories. But what we've achieved is in the past. We've got to be more hungry to deliver in the future."Reuse content