I was so repulsed by what the Liverpool manager had done to me that I considered giving up sport.


On this day in 1999, Gerard Houllier of Liverpool broke the record for the most goalkeeper transfers in England when he signed Sander Westerveld.

In the summer of 2018, Liverpool acquired Alisson Becker from AS Roma for a possible fee of £65 million, making the Brazilian goalkeeper the most expensive in history for a brief period of time. Even though the record was quickly surpassed, neither the Reds nor the goalie have looked back since.

The 31-year-old, who is among the top goalkeepers in the world, has established himself as one of Jurgen Klopp’s best acquisitions. The Brazilian international has spent six years at Anfield, where he has helped his team win the FA Cup, the Champions League, the Premier League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the European Super Cup, the League Cup, and the English Premier League. He has also won two Premier League Golden Gloves and been a part of the top flight’s weakest defense three times, the Best FIFA Goalkeeper award, the Yashin Trophy, and various individual honors.

Like every goalie, he has made mistakes here and there throughout the years, but it hasn’t damaged his reputation on Merseyside. Alisson will rightfully be remembered as one of Liverpool’s all-time best goalkeepers when the time comes for him to leave the club.

But consider a scenario in which, despite his achievements thus far, he loses his starting spot for Liverpool because of his subsequent error that resulted in a goal. Imagine that once he was fired, Arne Slot, the new manager, signed not one, not two, goalkeepers. Quite unlikely, is it not?

But during Gerard Houllier’s tenure as manager, that’s just the circumstance that one former Reds goalie encountered. When the Frenchman signed Vitesse Arnhem’s Sander Westerveld, he smashed the English record for a goalie on this day in 1999. Even though the £4 million for the Dutchman is nothing in comparison to the £65 million for Alisson 19 years later, a record is a record nonetheless.

The Netherlands international was brought in as one of seven summer additions as Houllier transformed his team with a £30 million transfer binge, and he quickly established himself as Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper. He wasn’t the Reds’ first choice target, though, as they had first aimed to sign Edwin van der Sar, who turned down their efforts in favor of a £5 million transfer to Juventus.

“I visited Liverpool after leaving Ajax in 1999 and talked with Houllier,” the former Manchester United goalkeeper said in an interview with FourFourTwo in 2017. “I met with the chairman and a few players in addition to being given a tour of Anfield. I considered it, but after Juventus presented their case, I decided that playing in Italy would present a greater challenge.”

Van der Sar eventually contributed to Liverpool getting his fellow countryman, even though they would ultimately miss out on the Dutchman, who would sign for Fulham two years later after losing his spot to Gianluigi Buffon in Turin and make a tardy move to the Premier League.

Indeed, Edwin contributed to the transfer. Edwin was Liverpool’s first pick when they were looking to replace David James in 1999, as Westerveld disclosed to FourFourTwo last year. They traveled to Amsterdam to see him play Ajax versus Vitesse, my team. I played well, and we won 1-0 against Ajax.

“Van der Sar was still wanted by Liverpool, but he ended up signing with Juventus. As a result, Gerard Houllier visited my Arnhem apartment and asked if I would like to play for Liverpool.” Yes, I replied. Since I was a small child, I had been a fan of Liverpool, and I signed my contract in the Amsterdam airport.

I traveled to Brazil the following morning with the Dutch national team, where I played my first international match against the Selecao. For me, it was the ideal week. I had Van der Sar to thank for my move to Liverpool, as he made a joke while we were playing for the national team.

“I joked to him, ‘No regrets, Edwin?’ when we won five trophies in 2001 and he signed with Fulham after winning nothing at Juventus.”

At least initially, Westerveld and Liverpool wouldn’t be sorry, as the Dutchman made an impression behind a new central defense duo in Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz. In his 36 Premier League games in 1999–00, the Dutchman’s 14 clean sheets were the only one held by Ed de Goey.

And the only thing that kept him from having an all-star campaign was his notorious red card against Everton in September 1999, when he and Francis Jeffers were sent off after a brawl. Instead of receiving the expected reprimand from his manager, Houllier found Westerveld’s demeanor to be admirable.

We were behind 1-0 in a tough game. He told FourFourTwo, “I’d already spoken with Jeffers earlier in the game; after he dived, I called him a German.” We got into a handbag fight in the second half and were all given red cards.

We talked about that game when I recorded an Everton podcast with Jeffers not too long ago. Francis claimed he was glad the referee had sent him off first because he was afraid I might fly into him and he hastily locked the door to his changing room! Then, we could laugh about it.

He remembered to Planet Football, “The day after Houllier called me in his office.” “Oh, this is it,” I thought to myself. “It goes without saying that I dislike it when players receive red cards, but you demonstrated character and you should keep it,” he remarked. You shown your resolve and desire to succeed. You made it clear how important the derby was to you, and I need athletes who think like this. I smiled broadly as I left.

Although the Reds qualified for Europe with the lowest goal conceded record in the division—30—they lost out on Champions League participation due to a subpar finish to the season. However, they would redeem themselves in the most spectacular way in 2000–01.

In winning an unprecedented cup treble, Westerveld was the hero in the League Cup final, saving the game-winning save from Andy Johnson of Birmingham City in a penalty shoot-out victory. Over the course of the season, Westerveld started 61 of Liverpool’s 63 games as they won the League Cup, FA Cup, and UEFA Cup before qualifying for the Champions League.

Later, he told FourFourTwo, “It’s fantastic to distinguish yourself as a goalkeeper during a penalty shoot-out,” remembering the League Cup final. “I recall Andy Johnson’s anxiety prior to that game-winning kick; I was aware of his preferred angle, and he stuck with it. After saving the penalty, I lost my mind. In Cardiff, we established the groundwork and took home five trophies that year.

Even then, there were already whispers starting to circulate that Houllier was tired of Westerveld and desired his replacement. Despite having the second-most clean sheets in the Premier League that season, he was thought to be making more errors in his play after he punched the ball into his own net against Chelsea The most obvious instances are the 5-4 UEFA Cup final triumph against Alaves and the incident where he smashed the ball into his own net.

Connections with Chris Kirkland and Jerzy Dudek began to surface; in fact, the Reds were openly associated with Kirkland as early as January 2001, which prompted Westerveld to make a statement.

At the time, Westerveld declared with confidence, “I’ve been assured by Gerard Houllier that Liverpool haven’t made a bid for Chris Kirkland.” “I was happy to hear what the gaffer told me, and I believe it.

However, I won’t worry about who sits on the bench as long as we don’t acquire Edwin van der Saar or Peter Schmeichel. I have a lot of self-confidence, so as long as I have a contract here at Liverpool, I won’t let anyone replace me.”

He had already acknowledged the previous year that he struggled and that his confidence suffered as a result of people making fun of him when he made mistakes.

He remarked in March 2000, “I’ve just about had enough of people thinking it’s funny to make jokes about goalkeepers when they come up to me.” “If someone spills their beer glass on the ground two meters away from me, You can sure that a wise guy has inquired as to whether it was me, just like it did on Saturday night.

When he delivers my letters, my postman even participates in the prank. He warns, “Watch you don’t drop them.” These remarks bother me, and they don’t exactly boost your self-esteem either.

“A man informed me that having Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia in front of me was fortunate. That’s a foolish mentality. I was asked if I truly understood what it meant to be a Liverpool player by someone who said he had been a fan for years. It is offensive and implausible to claim that. If criticism is warranted, I don’t mind it.”

Westerveld would miss Liverpool’s 2001–02 Premier League opening against West Ham United and Champions League qualifications against FC Haka, but he would start the Community Shield and European Super Cup finals as Liverpool won further trophies. However, a late mistake in his first league game of the year—letting a long-range strike from Dean Holdsworth crawl under his body—saw the Reds lose 2-1 on the road against recently promoted Bolton Wanderers.

Houllier informed him that he was still first choice, but he was made aware that Liverpool was looking to add a goalkeeper. However, the Frenchman replaced Westerveld on transfer deadline day by signing Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland a few days after the Bolton disaster.

“Our goal has always been to improve every aspect of the team,” Houllier stated on the team’s website after the transfer. “We have made sure that these two outstanding goalkeepers are signed for that reason.

“The addition of a hugely promising young talent (Kirkland) together with an experienced international (Dudek) will provide a major boost to the club.”

It would be the last time Westerveld played for Liverpool.

“I find what happened to be really upsetting. While on international duty, Houllier declared, “I will be his number one keeper, whatever happened,” in the wake of the transfers. “Before the next game, I will definitely want to speak with the manager.”

“Yet you can’t think someone will be a replacement when you spend so much money on them. Without a doubt, I’ll want to talk to the management before the following game.

“I need to hold my composure and wait for Houllier to speak with me. I want to know what’s going to happen to me and I want an explanation. In July, Houllier informed me that Feyenoord had made him an offer for Dudek, but he declined.

“I discussed my predicament with Edwin van der Sar. It was an equal situation for him to leave Juventus, though mine was far worse than his. Houllier claims that I divulged secrets from the locker room and that I talk too much. However, I have always had nothing but praise for the club and have never divulged any secrets.”


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