Liverpool fans are beginning to see why Rafael Benitez considers Luis Garcia pivotal to the club’s short and long-term success.
Luis Garcia cost €9m from Barcelona. The Liverpool manager had him under his wing at Tenerife and would have bought him for Valencia last summer had he stayed in charge of the Spanish champions.
It has him time to settle, but he says: “I will be even better next season.”
It was to the colder shores of the Mersey that the 26-year-old was to travel to join his mentor at Anfield, and the first opinions were that here was another lightweight who would not be able to cope with the pace and physical requirements of the Premiership.
Those views have changed. Luis Garcia has scored five goals in his last eight games, including three in that spell in Champions League clashes.
Two against Bayer Leverkusen and then last week’s stunning 30-yarder to put Liverpool 2-0 ahead in the quarter-final first leg against Juventus, have proved Benitez right in signing the product of Barca’s academy.
In fact, Luis Garcia has scored 10 this term, four in eight European matches and is second equal in Liverpool’s goalscoring charts with Steven Gerrard.
Benitez talks glowingly of Luis Garcia’s abilities playing “between the lines” and such a role will be crucial when Liverpool face the might of Juve again next Wednesday in the second leg, where they lead 2-1.
The player is a Kop idol but admits he has found it tough coming to terms with the game in England, where he has become the target of bullying defenders.
He said: “Adapting to football in this country has been harder than I imagined it would be, but I’m determined to continue working hard and doing the right things to get better.
“It’s much different to what I have been used to in Spain. When I first came here I started off well and I was playing like I always have done in La Liga.
“Then defenders got to know more about me and it has got harder because some teams aren’t interested in playing football, they just want to stop me playing.
“I don’t like that kind of football but I have to get used to it. It’s a challenge for me but it’s one I’m confident I can win.”
Luis Garcia – who has just won his first Spanish cap – could well be the key in the Stadio delle Alpi on Wednesday, where if Liverpool can snatch an away goal, they could shock Juventus.
The Spaniard said: “I always want to score goals and sometimes I look back on matches with a sense of disappointment because I haven’t scored.
“I have now scored 10 times this season and I suppose that’s not bad. But I think I should have scored more because I have had a lot of chances. I know I can do better and help the team even more.
“I think next season will be a much better one for me, I’m very confident of that. I’m stronger now than when I first arrived and I believe I will do even more good things next year.”
For now, reaching the Champions League semi-finals would be a pretty good start for Liverpool fans who initially feared for the frail Spanish import.
Another 30-yard cracker on Wednesday and Anfield fans would be in dreamland.
Another Spaniard, midfielder Xabi Alonso, could well be involved having been held back from the league match at Manchester City to allow him three hard days training.
Benitez said: “It is more important to train than to put a player on the bench. If you do decide to include the player in the squad it means he does not train in the same way the day before and day after the match.
“I would rather he trained and worked on his fitness for three days and then he might be ready for next week’s games, even the next six games."