From the dream of playing professional football to the nightmare of being a “bricklayer” in his family building firm; from being rejected by Wimbledon at a measly age of 16 years to being part of the legendary comeback Liverpool team of Champions League 2004-05. This Irish lad has experienced it all.
“I was at Wimbledon when I was 16. I was absolutely gutted to be released because, as everybody knows, at school you set your heart on something and when you are let down it is so disappointing.”
“When I then went to Welling I had to think about the possibility of getting another job outside of football. If that hadn’t worked out then I would probably have joined the family building firm, working as a ‘brickie’ or something like that. It is a big leap to be playing in the Champions League final – the biggest game of my career – but after what I’ve been through to get here, it holds no fears for me.”
-Steve Finnan in May 2005
A story of a boy getting rejected by a club in his teens and then making it off to a big club like Liverpool sounds pretty dramatic. His story is no less than a roller coaster ride. Finnan played his first professional game for Birmingham City and his nightmare was evidently fading away as this Irish hound was living his dream. Finnan was soon loaned away at Notts County, who eventually bought him later. His stay at this club wasn’t pleasant in his first season as the team got relegated later the next year. He was a consistent member of the starting squad but Kevin Keegan saw something in Finnan and signed him up for Fulham. He helped the club get promoted two leagues up into the Premiership after winning the First division championship in 2000-01 season.
The Liverpool Chapter
Finnan was grabbing attention from the big clubs and in 2003 he decided to sign for Liverpool. Plagued by injury he had a not so good season but it was his last under Gerrard Houllier.
With the departure of Houllier, on came the Spanish manager Rafa Benitez with his “Spanish player plan”; Finnan had an uphill task as the arrival of Spanish right back Josemi increased the competition for the spot in the starting eleven, but an injury to Josemi made it clear that Finnan will have his share of luck and he made it to the team as a consistent right back in Liverpool colours. Since coming from Fulham in 2003, Finnan came leaps and bounds and showed immense improvement in his gameplay which never made Benitez think for a replacement.
Finnan showed enough flair while attacking by making marauding runs as well as defending well at the back with his no nonsense style that had basic judgment and precision.
Steve Finnan unarguably declared that the Champions League final game against Milan was his best match ever in his footballing career. Defending with the likes of Hyypia and Carragher, he never grabbed the headlines that season, but never did he tremble. He quietly carried on doing his job by keeping the opposition wingers at bay.
“Finnan is a player who will always play at a consistent level. He will be seven, eight, nine or even 10 out of 10 every week. This is really important for the team. Some players find a good level for individual games but don’t do the same every week. Finnan does it for a whole season.”
Soon Finnan achieved a milestone and played 200 games for Liverpool. This Irish lad definitely realized he had come a long way. At his peak he was the epitome of consistency as he bagged games after games performing well and improving day and night.
Steve Finnan scored only one goal for Liverpool in his whole career.
“He is a very good player and has been great for the past couple of seasons. He’s now Ireland’s main right-back by some distance and he’s also the best in the Premiership at the moment. He goes about his business very quietly, he doesn’t grab the headlines but he does an excellent job on the right side of defence.
“When he first signed for Liverpool, you couldn’t help but think, ‘is he really that good?’ but he is getting better and better. His consistency has been first class and you can’t ask for anything more. He’s proven to be a very shrewd signing. His attacking play is coming on in leaps and bounds and it is no surprise that he’s had so many assists this year. He’s set up a lot of important goals. On top of that, he defends really well. He knows when to pass, when to stay on his feet. I’m sure he can improve even further.
In many ways, he’s like Phil Neal. He is always steady and gives you 100% every game. He’s the type of player every successful side needs.”
After the loss in Champions league finals, he got tough competition from the Spaniard Arbeloa who was desperate to cement his spot in the Liverpool camp. Soon Rafa’s alignment towards Spanish players proved fatal and Finnan ended up signing for Espanyol. His Spanish stunt did not last long and he ended up playing for Portsmouth in the end.
His international career saw him represent the Green nation 50 times and he ended up calling it a day after they failed to qualify for the next World and two Euro Competitions. He represented Ireland in FIFA 2002 World Cup where they progressed to the second round and were eventually shown the exit door by the Spaniards.
“I was playing a different role at left-back then [2000-2001], and Markus Babbel was superb as right-back. What I’d say is as brilliant as Markus was that season, Steve Finnan’s the best right-back I’ve played with. He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but when the PFA team of the year awards are announced, I’d be amazed if he isn’t right-back. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to vote for your team-mates. If you could, he’d be my first pick.”
Always in the shadows this hard working never tiring Irish right back hardly made it to the headlines but he never backed out on giving his 100 percent and contributed his life and soul to his dream and well what can we say after all “Dreams do come true” .
– by Rohit Bhandari