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Sotirios Kyrgiakos did notspend long at Liverpool, but he certainly remembers his time at Anfield fondly.
“Special,” the former Greeceinternational tellsGoal in a rare interview. “It is the best club in England, and the fans are so, so special.”
For someone who made less than 50 appearances for the Reds, Kyrgiakos still managed to cram plenty into his spell at the club.
He worked under three different managers, started a European semi-final, picked up a red card in a Merseyside derby and played alongside some of the club’s modern greats.
Not bad for a two-year stint as a stop-gap signing.
Kyrgiakos was bought by Rafa Benitez from AEK Athens in August 2009, arriving at a time when Liverpool were suffering under the disastrous ownership of American duoTom Hicks and George Gillett.
Benitez had initially hoped to sign Matthew Upson on a free transfer, only to be told that the England international’s wage demands were too high. Kyrgiakos, at £2 million but on a much lower salary, was the compromise.
He arrived with decent enough pedigree; he had been a Greek Cup winner with Panathinaikos, a fans’ favourite with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and enjoyed a two-year spell in Scotland with Rangers, where he had been part of the famous ‘Helicopter Sunday’ title success of 2004-05.
“I have many great memories from my career,” the 40-year-old says now. “But I have to say that being signed by Liverpool was something very important for me.”
Kyrgiakos made his Reds debut in a 3-2 win at Bolton, but he had joined a team in decline and a club being ripped apart from within.
Liverpool had finished second in the Premier League in 2008-09, but werebuckling under the weight of more than £350m ($440m) worth of debt. Xabi Alonso had been sold in the summer and his replacement, Alberto Aquilani, arrived injured. Speculation surrounded the futures of star men Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano.
Hicks and Gillett, meanwhile, were barely on speaking terms. There were mounting protests among supporters, with Benitez left to struggle on in the middle as Royal Bank of Scotland, the club’s creditors, looked for a way to recoup their money.
In short, it was not a happy period.
Kyrgiakos played 21 times in his first season on Merseyside, but Liverpool exited the Champions League at the group stage, failed in both domestic cups and dropped to seventh in the Premier League. They were also beaten by Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Benitez, after months of uncertainty, would leave that summer. Kyrgiakos started the Spaniard's final game as Liverpool boss, a dire goalless draw at Hull City, andhas nothing but good things to say about his former manager.
“He chose me for the club, and for that I have to thank him,” he says. “I can say for sure that he was the best manager I worked for.
“He is very smart, fantastic tactically and also a great person.”
Kyrgiakos’ second season at Liverpool would be no less tumultuous than the first. There would be a change of ownership, with Fenway Sports Group (then New England Sports Ventures) gaining control following a bitter High Court battle, which Hicks and Gillett memorably described as “an epic swindle”.
There would be another change of manager, too. Roy Hodgson, Benitez’s replacement, lasted just six months and 31 games before being sacked, replaced by a club legend in the shape of Sir Kenny Dalglish.
“It was an honour to play for King Kenny,” Kyrgiakos says, declining to comment on Hodgson’s ill-fated reign.
“For me, he and Steven Gerrard are the two greatest players ever to have played for Liverpool.They have played a huge part in the club’s history.”
Kyrgiakos’ admiration for Gerrard is clear and, as a former Rangers player, he hopes his brilliance as a player can be matched in management.
“It is impossible to overstate how good a footballer he was,” he says. “He was such a great player and a great leader. He helped everybody on and off the pitch.
“I know he will help Rangers a lot. He already has. I hope soon he will win some trophies, because I have no doubt he will make a very good manager too.
“Rangers is a big football club – the best in Scotland. To play against Celtic in my time there was huge and unique. It is the biggest football derby on the planet, for me.”
Kyrgiakos left Liverpool for Wolfsburg in the summer of 2011, and would later enjoy a brief second spell in the Premier League on loan at Sunderland.He retired in 2014 following a stint in Australia with Sydney Olympic.
He tends to keep a low profile now. He is not involved with the game and usually declines media requests. He does, however, keepa close eye on the progress ofhis former clubs.
“I watch them all,” he says. "I will always support them.
“To have played for such a big club like Liverpool is very important to me. I can say it was something special in my career.
“I see what Jurgen Klopp is doing now with the team. He has done great work wherever he has been as a coach, and what he has done with Liverpool is huge.
“To have won the Champions League and soon the Premier League, that is special.”