He was a 21-year-old rookie goalkeeper facing the mighty Liverpool back in 1981, now 41-years later Agustin Rodriguez has been with Real Madrid every step of the way on their journey back to another Paris final.
Still treasuring the shirt he swapped with Ray Clemence after the game Liverpool won 1-0 in the Parc des Princes thanks to an Alan Kennedy goal, Agustin is now a season ticket holder at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Agustin Rodriguez (pictured) has been with Real Madrid every step of the way in Europe
Rodriguez was Real’s goalkeeper the last time they faced Liverpool in a final in Paris in 1981
He believes this final is wide open; says he never doubted current Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois even when others did; and recalls how in 1981 it was very much Liverpool and not Madrid who felt they were invincible.
‘It was pure magic,’ he says of Madrid’s run to the final. ‘Three comebacks in a row and they were all similar. It was like Groundhog day only in a positive sense!
‘Over the 180 minutes plus extra time of each tie City, Chelsea and PSG were superior to Madrid for long spells.
Liverpool won 1-0 in the Parc des Princes thanks to an Alan Kennedy goal against Rodriguez
‘But when Madrid have this explosion of energy, sparked by a goal, the people are on their feet and the stadium carries the team along with it.
‘We scored the first goal against City at minute 90! I thought: well there’s not time and then boom we scored three goals in five minutes.
It’s like the rich guy wines and dines the girl, takes her to a fine restaurant and a luxury hotel, but then along comes the rogue who doesn’t have the airs and graces but sweeps her off her feet and takes her away. Football is like that sometimes.’
A lot has been said about Madrid’s apparent invincibility in a competition they have made their own but back in 1981 things were very different with the Spanish side not having won the trophy for 15 years.
‘We had Laurie Cunningham carrying an injury, Uli Stielike was not 100 per cent. Liverpool had won the European Cup a couple of years before.
‘We all felt that whoever scored would probably win. Ray Clemence didn’t need to dive to make a single save.’
Rodriguez revealed that Ray Clemence (pictured) didn’t need to make a save in the 1981 final
Liverpool exuded confidence basing themselves in the Paris Meridian in the city centre.
‘They put us in a castle away from everything,’ says Agustin of Madrid’s base a 25-minute drive from Paris.
‘I said at the time that the nice thing about playing a European Cup final was to experience it with the fans and there was no one where we were,’
Madrid were so unfancied that the club still paid out bonuses of around half a million pesestas to players after the defeat because they were grateful to have at least reached their first final since 1966. ‘Enough to buy a small car,’ he says.
Agustin believes this game will be very different both to that final, and to the game in Kiev in 2018.
‘Liverpool will have control and Real Madrid will wait for them but the two teams are very evenly matched. Madrid love a game when it’s anarchic! This game is a lot more open.
‘I’m really glad Fede Valverde is playing now because he’s a player who fills me with confidence. Rodrygo can be electric in the second half and if Vinicius is on form he can be spectacular.
‘But for them you can say the same about Mane, Salah and Firmino. And they can score from a corner because they have a right back who can take very good set-pieces and who Villarreal allowed to attack in the semi-final. Their keeper is excellent too.’
It’s Real Madrid, however, who have arguably the best keeper in the world right now. What does Agustin think of Courtois who will have the task he had 41 years on?
Rodriguez believes Thibault Courtois (pictured) is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world
‘They doubted him at first but I always thought it was a great signing,’ he says. ‘For a start he is huge. He fills the goal and yet he’s so agile. He’s quick with his feet and with his hands.
And perhaps above all he has tremendous levels of concentration. I’m sure it’s something he honed playing for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. And he feels important now. He has won the respect of everyone.’
Agustin won’t travel to France. ‘If I could be helicoptered on to the pitch and then taken to my seat it would be different but travelling to and from these big games takes it out of you,’ he says. ‘I’ll be watching it calmly at home.’
Being at the Bernabeu for the three previous rounds he must feel like he’s been to three finals in the last two months.
‘I’m happy with what I have seen,’ he says. ‘And if Madrid win the final I’ll be even happier.’