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EXCLUSIVE: Liverpool star reveals why he rejected Man United as 'perfect' plan brought him to Anfield

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 29/09/2022 Theo Squires

When Liverpool won the treble in 2001, it famously came courtesy of a little helping hand from Stephane Henchoz at the Millennium Stadium.

Facing Arsenal in the FA Cup final in Cardiff, the Reds, having already won the League Cup on their previous visit to the stadium back in February were outplayed from start to finish by the Gunners. Yet they only trailed by a solitary goal as Arsene Wenger’s side saw a hatful of chances go begging, granting Michael Owen the opportunity to write his name into club folklore by stealing the cup away with a dramatic late brace.

It wasn’t until the 72nd minute when Arsenal belatedly took the lead through Freddie Ljungberg. However, they should have been awarded a first-half penalty after Stephane Henchoz blocked a Thierry Henry strike on the line with his arm.

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Unspotted by officials at the time, if the Switzerland international had been penalised, he would have also been sent off and left a below-par Liverpool facing the most uphill of battles.

Even though such an incident took place 21 years ago, fans still regular mention handball when they speak to Henchoz. And it’s not lost on the defender that he was even more fortuitous when you consider the introduction of VAR in recent years.

“Still (people mention it) all the time now to be honest! The thing is with VAR now, I would not have escaped because they would have reviewed!” he laughed when speaking exclusively to the ECHO. “It would probably have been a penalty with the rules now with handballs.

“At the time, no VAR. Sometimes in football, you need luck. That’s what makes the difference sometimes, the luck. On that day I’ve been lucky, probably as the team has been lucky to stay in the game until the 89th minute because we should probably have been 3-0 down.

“Probably the best memory for me, 2001, it was the best season in terms of trophies. Though the next season was probably the best personally because I think I played my best football when we finished runners-up behind Arsenal in 2002. They were the two best seasons of my career.

“But from all the trophies, the FA Cup was the best memory. Because it’s the FA Cup and because of how we won it. When you win 3-0, over after 60 minutes, it’s great but you can see it coming.

“On that day, no-one could see us winning, and it came in dramatic fashion with two goals from Michael. It’s the best memory from the highlights, winning the FA Cup.”

Henchoz would also win the UEFA Cup, two League Cups, the UEFA Super Cup and the Charity Shield during his five and a half years at Anfield, making 205 appearances after joining from Blackburn Rovers in a £3.5m deal in the summer of 1999. However, he might not have lifted any of the aforementioned silverware if his career had taken a different turn when completing his first move to England two years earlier.

Having spent two seasons with Hamburg, the Switzerland international reunited with his former international boss Roy Hodgson when moving to Blackburn in a £3m deal in 1997. However, he had also been of interest to Manchester United only to turn down Sir Alex Ferguson’s advances in favour of the switch to Ewood Park. Looking back, the 48-year-old has no regrets and wouldn’t change a thing.

“I had the possibility to go (to Manchester United) but I was Hamburg at the time,” Henchoz recalled. “I thought I won’t play many games at Manchester United. They had Bruce and Pallister, they were the two centre-backs.

“I thought at my age, I needed to play. Roy Hodgson, who I knew very well, had taken over at Blackburn. I thought I would get my chance if I went to Blackburn. It would be a lot more difficult if I went to Man Utd.

“In the end it was definitely the right decision. Went to Blackburn, I adapted to the Premier League and then I ended up at an even better club in Liverpool. You can’t do more.

“For me, at the end of the day the story was perfect. It shows you that, for the young kids, sometimes they want to go too high, too quick. Sometimes take a half-step in your career.

“You need to make the right choice at the right moment. For me, it was the perfect choice, Blackburn at the time.”



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