Steven Gerrard called on UEFA to allow Liverpool to defend the Champions League trophy next season after revealing he is set to stay put to lead their challenge.
Gerrard capped a truly incredible game against AC Milan, with Liverpool having fought back from 3-0 down at half-time to prevail on penalties, by admitting: “How can I leave after a night like this?”
Now the Liverpool captain, who has repeatedly been linked with a potential transfer, will start talks with the club over a new contract.
“We are going to sit down really soon with the manager and [chief executive] Rick Parry, and it’s looking good,” he revealed.
“My form has been hot and cold this season but I’m going to put that to bed and you’ll see a different player next season.
“The fans saved up for months to come here. Liverpool fans are crazy, they were unbelievable, and I'd like to dedicate this victory to them.”
The pressure on UEFA is now growing to confirm that Liverpool will be offered a wild card entry into next season’s competition after lifting the trophy for a fifth time.
The winners are not automatically entitled to defend their crown, while Everton have been assured of England’s fourth spot in the Champions League.
UEFA sent out mixed signals ahead of last night’s final, but Gerrard insisted: “It’s called the Champions League and the champions should be able to defend it. I just hope that others above [at UEFA] let us do that next season.”
Boss Rafa Benitez added: “Common sense says that the winner must defend the title and I think that Steven wants to stay to win more trophies with us.”
Liverpool had still started the season as outsiders, they were underdogs against Juventus, Chelsea and also Milan. Indeed, they were written off even at half-time in the final itself.
But with probably the most incredible comeback in any major European final, they rescued a seemingly lost cause through sheer strength of character in Istanbul.
They had gone behind after just 52 seconds when Paolo Maldini volleyed home after a free-kick, with on-loan Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo then scoring twice.
Liverpool were even denied a penalty despite an apparent handball by Alessandro Nesta, although Milan were similarly frustrated by an offside goal cancelled out for Andriy Shevchenko.
The 3-0 half-time scoreline nevertheless seemed to spell the end for Liverpool, even if a handful of fans did defiantly sing ’we’re going to win 4-3’.
Few believed them. But Benitez had made some shrewd moves at half-time, bringing on Dietmar Hamann for Steve Finnan and making three defensive switches.
The net result was to give the team a stronger platform, enabling Gerrard to roam further forward and he duly headed home Liverpool’s lifeline on 54 minutes.
Six minutes later, they were level after a breathtaking spell as substitute Vladimir Smicer struck with a drive and then Xabi Alonso converted a penalty - won by Gerrard – at the second attempt.
As AC Milan bos Carlo Ancelotti blamed “six minutes of madness“, Liverpool were kept in the game by an incredible double-save by Jerzy Dudek from Shevchenko in the last minute of extra-time.
However, the Polish keeper’s heroics had not stopped there as he then reproduced Bruce Grobbelaar’s goal-line antics from the club’s last European Cup triumph in 1984.
With Serginho blasting the first spot-kick wildly over the bar, Dudek denied both Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko as Liverpool prevailed even though John Arne Riise’s effort was saved.
After a 21-year absence, they were back at the pinnacle of European football and not even Gerrard could quite believe it.
“We were massive underdogs at the start of the competition and I hold my hands up, I didn’t think we were going to go all the way,” he admitted.
“At half-time, I also thought it was impossible and that I’d be in tears at the end. We had a mountain to climb but we kept fighting to the end.
“The manager said keep our chins up and try and score early – and we did. The cup is heavy but it feels good. This is the best night of my life.”