I was on holiday back in Holland when the move to Liverpool began to take shape. Villarreal had only recently signed me from AZ [Alkmaar], Manuel Pellegrini was the manager at the time and they signed me because I had done well in Europe. We reached the UEFA Cup semi-final but the other full-back at Villarreal was also a good player so I wasn’t always in the team.
It was difficult for me because I wasn’t playing as many games as I wanted to at the time. I played in the Champions League and quite a few in La Liga but in December I was on holiday and got a call from my agent. He just said ‘Are you interested in Liverpool?’ I was laughing like ‘Are you serious?! Of course I’m interested in Liverpool!’
They wanted to do a swap with me and Josemi. At the time Josemi was at Liverpool but I think he was a little bit homesick or didn’t like the weather and wanted to go back to Spain. I thought England was better for me than Spain at the time so it was a good deal for everybody.
My first game was at Luton which was quite an introduction to English football. There were a lot of long balls from Luton, they had a lot of players who were strong and physical. I was always one of the players who was quite fit in the Netherlands, but I came to England and it was such a higher level in terms of pace and tempo.
That was the game where Xabi Alonso scored from the halfway line. If you go on the internet you can see me and Gerrard shouting at him. We were like ‘What are you doing?!’, but when we saw where the ball was going we were ok with it!
I had to adapt but it went well, I played my games as a right full-back and I was always in the 18 man squad while I was there. But Rafael Benitez didn’t really see me as a defensive right back, he saw me more as a wing back in a 3-5-2. That was a thing I had to convince him of every time, every game, and then when I played in a normal system I played well, but still he told me he didn’t think that was where my future was and that was difficult for me.
I was always in the squad but just not as many starts as I wanted. I remember my first league game I came on against Manchester United and Rio Ferdinand scored in the last minute. But then we played them in the FA Cup and we beat them so that made up for it because we ended up getting to the final.
I knew how important that cup was. In the final [against West Ham], I came on for the last half an hour and we made some defensive mistakes — Jamie Carragher scored an own goal and Pepe Reina made an error but it was a great occasion. There were so many red shirts in the stadium and it was an amazing feeling to win. I think it was the 125th final and I know people still talk about it as one of the best FA Cup finals.
It was a great game to be a part of, I came on for Xabi, who would have imagined that at the time? I can’t imagine it now either, but I went to wing-back to stop Paul Konchesky a bit more because he was running up and down the whole game.
But I just couldn’t convince Benitez I was more of a defender than winger or a wing-back. It was the best deal to swap me for Josemi but I’m not sure he would have bought me if I was available normally — but I didn’t ask that.
At the end of August, Ronald Koeman [then PSV manager] called me and they were such a big club in Holland. It was difficult for me to leave England because the atmosphere is fantastic and the fans were great, but Benitez told me straight if we didn’t find a solution in August we’d find one in January because I wasn’t going to play a lot of games. I would have rather stayed in England but there were no options for me there so I came home with PSV.
About three years ago I got a call from the Masters football organisation, they were planning to do some games abroad in Asia. Last time we went to play against Manchester United and they wanted me there. I’ve always been very down to earth, I’d only been in Liverpool a short time and hadn’t been back there in a long time.
I only really played eight months but they asked me to go and play with Sami Hyypia, Patrick Berger, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler — all the big players from Liverpool and then me. I did well and did my best, but I hadn’t played eight years in Liverpool, it hadn’t even been a year but I really wanted to go.
They were all really nice guys, just normal guys – it’s a big family and a close community in Liverpool. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played there for eight months or eight years, you are one of them and always a part of the squad. I played for PSV in the Netherlands for five years and I’ve never been asked to play a game with them, in eight months with Liverpool I was asked to play a game in Asia – unbelievable!
That’s the big difference with Liverpool, I played in front of 25,000 people in Asia who were all crazy about the red shirt and it was just magic. I’m very proud I played for such a great club.