'A debut against United - you couldn't ask for more'

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The Independent Football

Not since the days when Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish ruled Anfield have Liverpool boasted a player with three European Cup medals.

Not since the days when Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish ruled Anfield have Liverpool boasted a player with three European Cup medals.

That in its boldest, bluntest terms is what Fernando Morientes brings to Liverpool in exchange for the £6.5m the club agreed to pay Real Madrid - the deep, instinctive knowledge of how to win. Morientes, who will sign a four-year deal, remarked that he would be coming to Merseyside with "a cupboard full of trophies".

It will be Rafael Benitez's earnest wish that that cupboard grows a little fuller in the next few seasons, although the 28-year-old is ineligible for Liverpool's remaining Champions' League fixtures. Nevertheless, he could not dream of a potentially greater debut than to face Manchester United at Anfield on Saturday.

"There are Spanish players at Liverpool, a Spanish manager and a game against Manchester United coming up," Morientes said,"You couldn't ask for more."

Had Monaco, the club who took Morientes on loan last season and saw him score the goals that steered them to a European Cup final, managed to put together a package that would have satisfied both Real Madrid and the player, they might have been serious contenders. However, the only other firm bid Real's vice-president, Emilio Butragueño, received was from Lyon and Morientes saw that as no choice at all.

"It's a decision I thought a lot about and not just in a couple of mad days," Morientes said. "I gave my word to Liverpool that I wanted to join them and another reason that I did not accept the Lyon offer was that I had played a season at Monaco and didn't want to go to a rival club. The Lyon offer came too late and I had already made up my mind that I wanted to play for Liverpool and had given them my word. I had already packed my bags for Liverpool. The only thing I said to Liverpool was that I wanted to play."

That last statement came from the heart. When Morientes scored the goals that knocked Real Madrid out of the European Cup last season there was a predictable outcry at the Bernabeu that he should never have been allowed to leave. However, when he returned to Madrid, far from finding himself elevated, Morientes dropped further down the pecking order with the arrival of Michael Owen from Liverpool in August. Not even a turnover of managers that saw four coaches in eight months could revive Morientes' fortunes which were once considerable. In retrospect, he said, he should have been transferred before the start of the season.

"I am leaving happy because I am going to a club I wanted to join, but with a bit of sadness because I have spent eight years of my life here. This club is in my heart. But, football-wise, it hasn't been a great period and the reason I took the decision to leave was because something wasn't working. It hasn't been a very pleasant few months at Real.

The salary, which is larger than what he could expect in Le Championnat, is one attraction and Morientes cited the passion for football on Merseyside as another - as is the presence of Benitez and several other Spanish speakers.

He was not especially well treated at the Bernabeu. Not only was there the loan to Monaco, but when Ronaldo was sold to Madrid three years ago, the Real president, Florentino Perez, attempted to pay for it by selling Morientes to Internazionale, who then agreed to transfer him instantly to Barcelona. Fortunately for the player's sanity, the deal collapsed.

Morientes was never a galactico, as Raul, who took his No 9 shirt, is. He was a Madridista, who supported the club as a boy and never let them down, although his managers found him frustratingly prone to injury.

"The only thing I can promise the fans of Liverpool is what people already know about me," he said. "I won't make any promises I can't keep but I will say that I am excited about playing for Liverpool and it is the biggest decision I have taken in my life. I am going to try to make Liverpool even bigger than they are now, although looking at the club's history, that's going to be difficult."

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