Stephane Henchoz on *that* handball, cockiness v Alaves, spitting at Warnock
Stephane Henchoz will always have a place in Liverpool folklore as part of Gerard Houllier’s treble-winning team of 2000-01, but he acknowledges he was luck in two of the Reds’ three finals that season not to have cost the team.
Under the management of Gerard Houllier, Liverpool won the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup under that season, while also achieving their main aim of finishing in the top three of the Premier League to secure a place in the following season’s Champions League.
But it was certainly not plain-sailing on the way to those three trophies – and Henchoz was at the centre of big moments in each of the first two finals.
The first came in the League Cup decider against Birmingham, when Robbie Fowler’s brilliant volley looked to have earned the Reds a narrow 1-0 win over their second-tier opponents until Henchoz gave away a penalty which was subsequently converted to send the game to extra-time and ultimately a shootout.
Speaking on the latest episode of The Broken Metatarsal podcast, in which we remember the highlights of that season, Henchoz said: “It’s always difficult when you are the one who made a mistake. I made a rash tackle, I should have stayed on my feet, but it’s always easy to say afterwards.
“We had to go to penalties and you pray before that you’re going to win when you’re the one who made the mistake and could make your team lose the trophy. Fortunately for me, we managed to win.
“It was very important because Liverpool hadn’t won a trophy before this for a few seasons. So even if it was only the League Cup, it was a relief we could win something.
“But it was only the end of February when we won this trophy. It was a good achievement, we had won something, everybody was happy, but the target still was finishing in the top three to reach the Champions League.
“We just celebrated with all the team and the wives and girlfriends at the hotel, nice and easy, and the next day we started again to concentrate on the next game.”
Save of the century
While Liverpool had dominated much of the League Cup final, it was a different story when they faced Arsenal in the FA Cup final in May.
And the Gunners thought their early pressure was about to pay off in the 17th minute when Thierry Henry rounded Sander Westerveld and shot towards goal only for Henchoz to palm the ball wide of the near post.
It was missed by the officials and though Freddie Ljungberg later put Arsenal ahead, two late goals from Michael Owen turned the game on its head and gave Liverpool their second trophy of the season.
“I always get the stick from the Arsenal fans,” Henchoz says. “Sometimes in life you have to be lucky, but that’s football, that’s part of the game.
“It would have been a penalty and a red card, and it would have been a problem for the team because it was quite early in the game. But these things happen.
“Michael was on fire all season. He scored so many great goals, vital goals, and it was no different in the final. Two great goals, especially the second because he scored it by himself. He made the difference on that day.”
Overconfidence in Dortmund
Liverpool fans might have become accustomed to drama by this point, but nothing could prepare anyone for what was to follow four days later when the Reds took on Alaves in the UEFA Cup final.
Henchoz says the semi-final against Barcelona was “like the final” for Liverpool, and having overcome the Catalan giants and then won the FA Cup, he admits the players were expecting an easy game in Dortmund.
“I remember before the final people were saying it would be the most boring final ever,” Henchoz says. “We knew we were quite strong defensively, we were not taking too many risks, and Alaves reached the final more or less by playing the same type of football.
“After winning the FA Cup, I must say we were quite confident. We’d played Alaves after beating Barcelona so we had reason to be confident.
“After 15 minutes we were already 2-0 up so it was like it was too easy. Then they score, but we still manage to make it 3-1 before half-time.
“When we came into the dressing room, spirits were high. We had the feeling that nothing can happen, we can score when we want. We were maybe a bit over-confident.”
Alaves, of course, famously did come back, making it 3-3 and then 4-4 after Robbie Fowler had put Liverpool back in front. It took an own goal – and crucially, a Golden Goal, from a Gary McAllister free-kick in extra time to finally seal the game and complete a memorable treble for the Reds.
Things got even better a few days later when they won 4-0 at Charlton to clinch third and a Champions League spot, kickstarting a successful period under Houllier which saw them go one better in the Premier League in 2001-02, finishing second.
Spitting at Warnock
They clinched more silverware the following season, winning the League Cup again with a 2-0 win over Manchester United, but equally as memorable for Henchoz was the two-legged semi-final win over Sheffield United which saw him in the headlines for spitting at Neil Warnock.
Liverpool had lost the first leg 2-1 at Bramall Lane, and with Warnock making some disparaging comments about the Reds after that game, Houllier’s side were determined to make amends back at Anfield. And after they did so with a 2-0 win to seal their place in the final, Henchoz acknowledges he may have got a touch carried away at the final whistle.
“We played the first game away at Sheffield and they did what they had to do,” he says. “They were very physical, very aggressive. Neil Warnock was very aggressive as well and we lost 2-1.
“So we weren’t very happy after the game. We knew we had the return leg two weeks later and during these two weeks, Neil Warnock said they play with their heart because we are big-money players and things like that, like they have more heart.
“I wasn’t very pleased because I have got a heart. I don’t know if it’s bigger than the Sheffield United players, but I have got one.
“So we were very fired up. And I think we were in control right from the start, they didn’t really create much. When the referee whistled, I was probably over-emotional. I was very happy to win this game, to beat them, after what had happened.
“I did spit, but not on him at all. I’d say a good one or two yards in front of him. And saying a few not-nice words. I was over-emotional, but that’s what happens in football. And I wouldn’t want to do it again because I have respect for Neil Warnock.”
To hear more from Henchoz and about that incredible season, listen to the full episode of The Broken Metatarsal below.
You can also find us on Audioboom, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, CastBox, Deezer and RadioPublic among other providers, where you can hear plenty more episodes in which we celebrate the best of noughties football.