Liverpool made 2m signing who changed history before leavi
เวลา:2022-11-23

Josemi Ray made 35 appearances in 18 months at Liverpool following his 2004 arrival

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Rafa Benitez made a little bit of history when he paid 2m for the services of a little-known right-back from Malaga in the summer of 2004.

Josemi Ray, simply known by his first name, was the first ever Spanish player to sign for the Reds. The signing was also Benitezs first at Anfield following his summer arrival from Valencia.

Liverpools connection with Spain has continued ever since, with more Spanish players arriving atAnfieldthan any other nation apart from England. But it was the right-back who wrote his name into the Anfield history books.

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The signing of Josemi set the tone for the early moves made Benitez as he looked to his homeland to bolster a squad that had previously struggled under Gerard Houllier. The Reds finished fourth, 30 points behind champions Arsenal.

The right-back, who celebrates his 43rd birthday today, went straight into the team - the Champions League qualifier at Grazer AK being his first game for the club - and was a regular starter until a November defeat at Middlesbrough, after which he began only two more games during the 2004/05 season.

From there, his time atLiverpoolwas ravaged by injury problems and poor form. Steve Finnan established himself as first-choice in his absence.

I was there for a year-and-a-half withRafa Benitez, Josemi said earlier this year. I was the first Spaniard to come to Liverpool in the Premier League.

That time was a quality leap in my career, because I had always played in my city team Malaga. Playing in a major club with a Spanish coach and team-mates, plus the new dynamics of the country, was a big change.

However, the full-back was fit and available for the clubs 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan. Josemi is best remembered for getting to the front of the celebrations in Istanbul, despite failing to appear from the knockout stages onwards.

But his inclusion in Benitezs matchday squad only came after a late change of heart from Benitez.Stephen Warnockwas initially named in the squad for the game against the Serie A heavyweights.

When I hear it described as being one of Liverpools greatest ever nights, it leaves a very sour taste, Warnock told BBC Sport when asked about the decision made by Benitez.

It still hurts now, actually - the way it was handled was absolutely shocking.I was in the original squad when the team sheet up was put up at the training ground a few days before the game, and I was absolutely ecstatic.

Then a couple of hours later, I got a call fromRafa Benitezsassistant, Pako Ayesteran, saying there had been a mistake. Josemi was in instead.

Even that was poor - the fact that Rafa did not have the bottle to ring me himself. He did speak to me briefly on the pitch after the game, but I was not in the mood at all, I was still seething.

I had been the same during the game. Dont get me wrong, it was never to the point where I wanted them to lose, because Liverpool were my club and they were my teammates out there, but it hurts when you are not involved and I was sitting there in the stands thinking about it the whole time. You almost switch off from what is happening in the game.

Istanbul 2005 Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium AC Milan vs Liverpool. Pictured Liverpool team celebrating the European Cup win

If you look at the celebrations afterwards, a lot of people are on all the different photos but I am nowhere to be seen. I couldnt bring myself to stand there, it just did not feel right. You feel like you have been let down.

Warnock was forced to sit in the stands for what became the Miracle of Istanbul, and his absence ultimately helped hasten a departure to Blackburn Rovers a year-and-a-half later.

The worst thing was the flight home, though, he added. They put the wives of those who had played on the plane, ahead of some players who had made key contributions in Europe that season, which was just shocking.

We got back to John Lennon Airport on a later flight to the team and, when we landed, the victory parade had already started.

You could not get to the bus because of the crowds, so I just went home. That was the moment I made my mind up that I had to leave the club.

While reacting to Liverpools win and the celebrations that followed, Josemi recalled: It was a Ferris wheel of sensations, against a team that was frightening to see the line-up before the match.

We were a young team with experienced players. That Milan had Rui Costa, Kaka, Dida, Cafu, Maldini, anyone who you named had experience.

They took the first half because we didnt know how to get into the game and we went 3-0 down by half-time. In the second half, everything went well for us and they lost their place.

Destiny indicated that it was for us. We were pretty good on penalties. I always say it was a game destined for Liverpool to win.

Before he added: Winning aChampions Leagueand then the European Super Cup for me was incredible.

The Spaniard remained at Anfield for the first-half of the 2005/06 season, but once again found opportunities hard to come by. As a result, Liverpool struck an agreement that you rarely see at the top level nowadays during the 2006 January transfer window.

The Reds shook hands on a deal with Villarreal that saw Josemi move to Spain andJan Kromkamparrive on Merseyside. It was a deal masterminded by Benitez.

As both players have discovered, it is difficult to play in another country, he said at the time. Josemi has tried to learn English and hes improved a lot but for him and his family it has been hard.

Kromkamp has suffered the same in Spain. He speaks English but at Villarreal almost everyone speaks Spanish so it was not an ideal situation for him.

Rafael Benitez, right, unveils his first signing of the year, Jan Kromkamp at Anfield, Liverpool, 05 January 2006

(Image: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The defender was on the move again in 2008 to Mallorca before spells with Iraklis, Cartagena, Levadiakos and Skoda Xanthi. He last played for Indian Super League side Atletico Kolkata and called time on his career in September 2016.

The moment has come to say goodbye, he said when confirming his retirement. To put a full stop on my career as a professional footballer.

The moment to hang up my boots and bid farewell to what has been my life since Ive been able to think. Eight clubs, 351 official games and the odd title, but above all a million experiences that I will never be able to forget.

But yes, the moment to say goodbye has arrived, the time to keep my boots in the cupboard and to look at new professional perspectives, relating to sport and football, that poison that has had me trapped since I was a random boy on a random street in Torremolinos.

Since retiring, Josemi has returned to his first club, Malaga, as a match delegate, and also owns a sportswear shop in the Spanish city.

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