Just mention the word Liverpool to Vladimir Smicer and a big grin will break out across his face. All these years on, it is clear to see he still adores the club he remains a cult hero at. He even describes them as ‘we’.
It is no surprise, then, that this legend of 2005 relished the win over Manchester United as much as the next hardcore supporter, and perhaps even Jurgen Klopp. Beaming over Zoom, he recalls taking in the swashbuckling statement from home.
‘I think it was something special on Tuesday,’ he tells Sportsmail, speaking on behalf of 888sport. ‘It was, of course, a big game, as always against Manchester United.
Vladimir Smicer has told Sportsmail ‘anything is possible’ in Liverpool’s Quadruple chase
The rampant Reds remain in the hunt for three trophies, having already won the Carabao Cup
‘The boys, because of the win, and the victory in the League Cup and all the successful games after that, they are on a high at the moment. They showed it on Tuesday. The way they played; it was something special.
‘I was just smiling in front of my TV, when I saw the way they played and the form they’ve got, altogether as a team and in individual performances.’
Awash with praise from every corner of the globe, this formidable Liverpool side are closing in on the impossible: the Quadruple. Four trophies in one season is a truly remarkable achievement and very much now just beyond the horizon for them.
Jurgen Klopp and his side have remained grounded, but Smicer is impressed by their form
They have already taken home the Carabao Cup, and find themselves in the final of the FA Cup. There, they will face Chelsea, who they downed to win their first gong.
But understandably, there are hordes of doubters who believe making history in this vein is just not realistic. Smicer, however, is not afraid to dream away.
‘It’s really, really close. They’re only two games away from the Champions League final,’ he adds. ‘Of course, Villarreal will be a tough opponent.
‘It’s easy to underestimate them, but they beat Juventus and went through in the last game. In the quarter-final, they were really good. I still think Liverpool will beat them and go to the final. So, it’s an FA Cup final and a Champions League final hopefully.’
After beating Chelsea at Wembley earlier this season, Liverpool will next look to lift the FA Cup
He is more grounded about the Premier League title race, saying: ‘In the league, it’s going to be tough. Manchester City, they’re in a good position. The calendar is favourable for them. They are, I would say, easier games than Liverpool.
‘But it’s going to be mentally tough for them. They know Liverpool are right behind them and will be waiting for any problems or bad results.
‘Every game for Liverpool at the moment is like a final. They can’t afford to lose or draw. But with their confidence, I’m thinking that anything is possible.’
It would take one of the greatest club sides in the history of the sport to pull off the hallowed four-trophy sweep. Luckily, Smicer believes his former side are exactly that. He also places the present day team above the group he played with for six years.
Smicer believes that the current crop of Anfield greats are better than the side he played in
‘I definitely think the current squad is better,’ he admits. ‘We have to agree that without any doubt. They won the Champions League, they won the Premier League, which was the target for us for around 30 years.
‘A few generations of Liverpool players never achieved that. This team did. Without any doubt, we were underdogs. In 2005, I remember Juventus were the underdogs against AC Milan. We were not the favourites as well.
‘This team, they are always the favourites. They have no fear of anyone. They are confident. They have a fantastic manager and everything looks perfect. I think this team should be the best team in Liverpool history.
‘I know some people will argue that the 1970s and 80s, when they were winning the European Cup, were, but I think the way they play and what they have achieved so far… they’re definitely one of the best in the history of the club.’
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005, with Smicer scoring a goal and a cool penalty
Not to say the players he featured alongside in the early noughties were simply a flash in the pan. The likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and Steven Gerrard also featured in that Champions League triumph 17 years ago.
Smicer would taste perhaps the greatest victory of them all on a bittersweet occasion for him – his last game in a Liverpool shirt. He was named on the bench but, after an injury to Harry Kewell in the first half, was brought on by Rafa Benitez.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Reflecting back on the match, the fresh-faced former midfielder is keen to emphasise that his thoughts while warming up were on being ready to perform, instead of casting his mind back at his years spent at the club ahead of his farewell.
Smicer is pictured celebrating scoring the Reds’ second goal on the way to their comeback
‘I knew I wouldn’t be playing, but when Rafa Benitez picked me as a replacement for Harry Kewell I was so happy,’ he says. ‘I know it was going to be my last game for Liverpool. I felt completely free in my head. I just said, “Come on”.
‘What a great chance for me to say bye to Liverpool fans and say bye to the club. We were already one goal down, so I just said, “Okay, let’s do something that shows you’re a good player.” And in the end, I couldn’t ask for more.
‘We won the game, I scored a goal, I scored a penalty.’
One player who also knows how to grab games of that magnitude by the scruff of its neck is Mohamed Salah. The superstar continues to bedazzle at Anfield, but has done so with his contract uncertainty looming over his head like a dark cloud.
Salah is yet to sign a new contract at Liverpool, and Smicer says he is desperate for him to stay
Smicer believes that Liverpool is the perfect club for him, and is keen to see the stand-off finally reach a resolution – one which suits both parties.
‘I think the players must be happy to play together because they know they have a chance to win any trophy,’ he insists.
‘That’s why when you’re playing the game, try to win as many trophies as you can.
‘There aren’t too many teams like Liverpool at the moment in the world where he could move. I think Liverpool are one of the top three sides in the world.
Salah has demanded a pay rise, and icon Smicer believes the club should agree to stump up
‘I just hope that Salah knows that. He wants a new contract and, I would think, big money, because he’s one of the best in the world as well. He deserves the money.
‘It’s a tough decision for the club and Salah, but I hope they find a way and he stays.’
This weekend, there is plenty on the line with the action coming thick and fast. Next up for Klopp’s side is a clash with Everton, their fierce foes. Blood will run hot on the field, tensions will ratchet up, and the crowd will create a stunning atmosphere.
Smicer is no stranger to these levels on pressure, even if he admits to having initially been taken aback by the physical, full-throttle nature of the famous rivalry.
Liverpool next face Everton in a fierce derby, with tensions sure to be sky-high during the clash
‘I remember my first derby game against Everton,’ he says. ‘We played at home and lost one nil. It was a real shock for me, when I saw what was happening on the pitch. There was more fighting than football! I then had to adapt it for the next game.
‘It’s very important for local fans in the city. It’s always a battle for the city. You have neighbours who are Liverpool fans, or Evertonians. It’s important that you win. Then, for example, for half a year, you are okay with your fans.
‘Mentally, it was a completely different game. It was very, very physical quite often. There were a lot of red cards and duels. It doesn’t look like that lately. When I saw the derby games [recently], it was more football than it was in our time.
‘It’s probably because the quality of the Liverpool side at the moment is really great. All these players, they try to control the game, they get control of the ball. It’s always a little bit more like football. At Goodison Park, it’s always a physical game.’
Smicer pulled on his old club’s hallowed shirt during a Legends friendly at Anfield last month
He will again be fixed to his TV to watch the game from his home in Prague. Perhaps he may also wish he was a part of this all-conquering Reds unit, just for one day.
Last month, he experienced a small taste of that. A host of Liverpool greats reunited for a charity game, with Smicer even able to pull on that famous jersey again.
His smile returns when he reflects on his run-out at the ground he used to call home.
‘I still feel like I’m part of Liverpool,’ he finishes. ‘I’m proud I can still represent them.’
Vladimir Smicer, was speaking on behalf of 888sport. Head to 888sport for the latest Premier League odds.