Liverpool vs Barcelona: The ball boy who helped Reds complete a Champions League miracle

Whatever happens in his career or life from here, 14-year-old Oakley Cannonier will remember his role in arguably the most remarkable victory in the club’s entire history

Simon Hughes
Thursday 09 May 2019 07:32 BST
Liverpool stun Barcelona: 'This club touches you like crazy' says Klopp

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been hailed as a genius for the quick corner kick that led to Liverpool’s fourth and deciding goal last night. Yet to begin to understand the pursuit of impossible it is best to start with the instructions and the even spread of information.

Liverpool’s match analysts had noticed last week in the Camp Nou how Barcelona’s players moaned and became distracted whenever a free-kick or a throw-in was awarded against them, even if the decision was blatantly the correct one. This made Jurgen Klopp recognise the possibilities. And so, he filtered a message through the club. It proves that he certainly had not given up – that Liverpool’s recovery was not purely borne out of adrenaline and special oils. His belief was not blind. It translated into plans and schemes.

Carl Lancaster is a coaching mentor at the club’s academy in Kirkby and amongst his responsibilities is the co-ordination of ball boys. He had told them to serve Liverpool’s players as swiftly as possible on Tuesday morning. Oakley Cannonier did not forget and with eleven minutes to go, he fed Alexander-Arnold while Barcelona’s defence fidgeted amongst themselves 20-yards away. It seemed astonishing they were blissfully unaware of what might happen considering Liverpool had already shown their bulldozing intent.

Cannonier is a 14-year-old originally from Leeds who sometimes trains with two age groups above his natural level. Whatever happens in his career or life from here, he will remember his role in arguably the most remarkable victory in Liverpool’s entire history, where Klopp’s team proved their capacity to reduce the immortal to inconsolable wrecks and men of granite to goo.

It had meant so much to Lionel Messi, he was crying as he walked the plank past to the drug testing area. Tears, meanwhile, had fallen from James Milner’s bloodshot eyes. In the dressing room afterwards, the midfielder sat topless with his shirt draining on the floor, half-smiling not really knowing what to say or do.

Georginio Wijnaldum had welled-up as well. He was furious that he’d been left out of Liverpool’s first XI. Inside ten minutes of his introduction at half time, he’d touched the ball six times. He’d scored twice. In front of the TV cameras, the Dutchman – usually so eloquent and able to find the right words – could not.

While Wijnaldum missed out on a starting place here, it was Jordan Henderson’s turn six days earlier in Barcelona. That both players emerged so influential reflects Liverpool’s resourcefulness, as well as their determination. In the 25th minute, Henderson, indeed, had seemed dead. On the floor. Not moving. Dead. Some of the midfielder’s critics might ask how a person can die if he’s never really lived? Despite pain in his knee, Henderson rose. In the fifth minute of injury time, he was still running: charging at opponents and intimidating them, as though thunder had charged his body.

“I was struggling a little bit when I got a whack on the knee, it was dead,” he admitted. “The doctor said just keep it moving. I managed to get to half time and I had a bit of treatment, took painkillers, all that stuff which helped. There was a jab and tablets. Both. Everything. I said: ‘just give us everything.’ So I managed to get through it and the crowd helped as well and keep us going.”

He could not really compute the outcome happened either. The best night of his career, he called it. “It was unbelievable. From start to finish I thought the lads were amazing. The atmosphere was amazing. It was just unbelievable.

Origi scored what proved to be the decisive goal

“We were 3-0 down but still took confidence from the performance (in the first leg). Still believed that we were the better team over there, though it is hard to say that when you get beat 3-0. But in the changing room we had belief we could hurt them.”

Can there really be a more appropriate captain for Liverpool at this moment? A player written-off, but never by coaches. A team written off, but never by their fans. A city written off, but never by its inhabitants.

“I think we proved quite a few people wrong tonight,” Henderson declared. “We showed that if you never give up and you keep trying you can produce special things.”

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On Sunday, Liverpool hope for another special thing, only this special thing is out of their control.

Henderson believes it can still happen for Liverpool in the Premier League. “The manager has ingrained that into us - no matter what happens you keep fighting right until the end until the final whistle goes. That is what we have done all season and we will continue to do that on Sunday.”

If Liverpool score first, who knows how Manchester City's players will react in Brighton. Liverpool's story this season, this week, shows nobody really ever knows for certain.

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