Where were you the night Liverpool shocked the football world by beating Lionel Messi’s Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield to book their place in the Champions League final?
Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Even if you’re not a Reds fan, you’ll remember the night when Gini Wijnaldum’s quick burst after a half-time substitution put the game away against the stunned Catalans. A breakthrough was achieved before Divock Origi buried Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner kick in front of the Kop.
Anfield exploded on its most famous night and Liverpool youngster Billy Koumetio was there, just six months after moving to Merseyside and joining the Reds. At just 16 years old, the Frenchman was chosen for the night.
While he may not have been as decisive as his academy team-mate Oakley Cannonier, who quickly laid on Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool’s winner in the corner, it’s a night Koumetio will mever forget.
“When I think about tonight, I think it’s crazy. It’s unbelievable,” he said in an exclusive interview with the ECHO last season. “Phil Roscoe is a member of staff who no longer works for the club and he is the one who decides who will be in such matches.
“They are usually young people, and I am older than them. I was like, “Me? Going to that game?!” I was shocked, but I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it!”
“When I arrived there, seeing the atmosphere and everything, the players so close to me, seeing the intensity of the game and hearing them talk on the pitch. It was wow. And what a victory, it will never be forgotten, in football in the world. Everybody knows it.
“After the game we shot a video with the boys to capture the atmosphere and the reaction of the boys after winning this incredible game. I will keep these memories for the rest of my life. ”
Just five months later, Koumetio himself was included in Liverpool’s squad for the game at Anfield. The 20-year-old came on as a substitute in the Reds’ 5-5 draw against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in October 2019 as the new side progressed to penalties. Although he didn’t make his debut that night, it left the Frenchman hungry for more.
“I was too young. I trained with the first team for the first time two days before that game [the 5-5 draw against Arsenal],” he recalled. “So I went there and saw all the players and Mily. , I saw Ox, I saw Naby. I was a bit stressed!
“But it was a good training session. The following day, I was training again and there with another centre-back, Morgan Boyes. The manager was explaining to us about how we would play. We were doing those things as he told us to go there, there, and there when talking about the tactics.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘I knew that they needed players.And the
y might pick some of the young team. This training is like a game for me and I will give everything I can.’ I didn’t know what choice he would make but I would give everything to show that I was here and I wanted to play and be in the squad for this game.
“After the training session, Vitor (Matos) came to me and said, “Tomorrow, 9 o’clock.” I was like, “I don’t understand! 9 o’clock? What?” And then he told me I was in the squad and that he would send me the schedule. Wow, wow.
“I then sent that to my agent and to my family straight away. My agent came straight away, took his flight directly. I was very happy, being there for the first time. Going to the hotel with the boys. I still remember that like it was yesterday. I loved it for sure.
“And it was a big game. One thing that shocked me was, obviously not all the players were there and there were a lot of young ones there, but the atmosphere was the same. The stadium was full.
“Seeing the support, wow, this club, the fans, every game blows my mind. I learn new game after game. Wow, this is incredible. I heard a chanting, wow. I really enjoyed it. “We had a big win (in the tie) and I gave that big win to Curtis Jones (who scored the game-winning penalty). I loved it.”
“And we got a big win (on penalties) and I made this big run to Curtis Jones (who scored the winning penalty). I loved it for sure.”
Koumetio would make his Liverpool debut a year later, but in very different circumstances in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He became the Reds’ youngest ever player in the Champions League when brought on in place of Fabinho at half-time away at Midtjylland in December 2020.
Despite impressing in pre-season and earning Jurgen Klopp’s praise in the process , Koumetio still did not see his first team debut coming.
“I was on the bench. So was Curtis (Jones),” he said. “I know (Joel) Matip was there, Hendo (Jordan Henderson) was there – so a few senior players were there.
“I remember Andreas (Kornmayer) told me that I would warm up last. I didn’t understand at that time. ‘What that meant, Am I going to play or what?’ I went to warm up, to be ready for any kind of circumstances.
“Hendo was saying to me, “I think you will play!” I was like, “Really? Nobody told me anything.” “I think you might play.”
“Okay, so now in my head I was like I have to be prepared even more. It’s not that I wasn’t ready, but now I focused more.
“I remember Andreas running to me at half-time and saying, “Billy, now we have to be active more because now you are coming on!””
So what did Klopp say to Koumetio before handing the then 18-year-old his Liverpool debut, and was he aware that he broke a Reds record in the process?
“He (Klopp) was the same. He never put me under any pressure,” he said. “He was always the same, like in the other game at Anfield. Put me under no pressure at all, whether it was in the friendly games (I’d played), it was always the same speech.
“No pressure at all, do the things that I can do. I know that he believes in my ability if he puts me there. He asked me to do them and I was able to do them.
“I was aware (that I became Liverpool’s youngest player in the CL). I was shocked that if I played, I would be this one. But before the game, I was not focused on this. I was just focused on the task the team had to do, that every player had to do in this game.
“I was not focused on any personal record, this is the last thing I would think about. But I remember after the game Gini Wijnaldum put up a post saying, ‘Congratulations to Leighton Clarkson and congratulations to Billy Koumetio for becoming the youngest…’ So now I was more conscious of it!
“It was a big thing, having my name on a record for Liverpool. I was very proud of it for sure, but I knew I had to keep pushing and keep doing the things I can do the best.”
That appearance would prove to be Koumetio’s only first team outing in the 2020/21 campaign as Klopp instead turned to Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams when Liverpool were decimated by an injury centre-back crisis.
On the bench three times in the Premier League during the Reds’ season-ending 10-game unbeaten run that clinched Champions League football against the odds, Koumetio is well-aware he could have been turned to next had Liverpool suffered anymore injuries.
“In that season, I learned a lot. I learned that anything can happen,” he recalled. “It was a very difficult situation for them (the injured players) personally.
“Next thing, I quickly became a player who could soon play constantly. I was like, ‘Wow.’ Things can change really quickly. The thing is to be motivated and have big visions.
“‘Yes, this year I can do more games. I can play five games, I can play 10 games. Everything is possible in football.’ This is what I learned this year.
“Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, what a year they did! What a year they did. I didn’t play but I still enjoyed it.”
Having played behind closed doors when making his Liverpool debut, Koumetio was able to experience a ‘proper’ Reds playing experience when handed his maiden start and Anfield outing against Leicester City in the League Cup in December 2021.
With Liverpool trailing 3-1 at half-time, the Frenchman was ultimately one of three young players withdrawn at the break as the Reds bounced back to win on penalties. But that takes nothing away from the experience for Koumetio on a night, like that famous Barcelona win two and a half years earlier, that he will never forget.
“It was an achievement as a young one. But not just as a young one, I’m sure millions of players want to play there (at Anfield),” he said. “To experience this atmosphere. I believe it is the best in football.
“I was thinking, ‘This is a big game,’ but I still had to be focused on the task that we had to do, what the manager asked us to do.
“Seeing the support during the game, even like the fans shouting, “Man on!”, it’s like they are on the pitch. You hear them in your ear. When you do something great, the way they clap, the way they support you and they encourage you.
“It was different from being in the stand and encouraging them. Now you play and hear the supporters encouraging you, it was a big feeling that I will never forget.
“It isn’t an easy thing to experience (to be substituted at half-time), not just as a young one but as any player. Everyone wants to play 90 minutes in a game.
“I respect any decision though. He is the manager, he knows more than me, more than us. That is the job, to make substitutions and change the tactics and everything.
“I didn’t say anything. We respect that, 100% sure. He came to me and said it has nothing to do with how we play or how I play.
The way I play is simple. Passing the ball right and left is good but he had to make a change and that was his decision. “That’s what he told me. I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ “I respect him 100 percent. Everything was great after that
That game against the Foxes remains Koumetio’s last for Liverpool, having joined newly-promoted Ligue 2 side USL Dunkerque on loan late last month following a half-season stint with Austria Vienna last year. As a result, it remains to be seen if he’ll play for the Reds first team again.
Regardless, his five years at Anfield have coincided with the most successful premier league era in Liverpool’s history. Winning every trophy, Klopp’s all-conquering team are a generation of legends.
Whatever the future holds for Koumetio, he has trained and played with these great Reds stars. As a youngster, such an experience is priceless.
But which of Klopp’s team have impressed the Frenchman most? Three players in particular stand out.
“The best player (in training) is very difficult! I don’t know, I would have to think for an hour about the best player!” he laughs. “One thing I notice for sure, the first time I trained with the first team, I went back to the Under-18s afterwards and they asked me this question, who I found the best in training.
“I said (Adam) Lallana. Lallana for sure. Everybody who went up was saying Lallana when they came back. It’s just his technique, the way he would never lose the ball. Never! It’s like the ball is attracted to his feet. It’s unbelievable for sure.”
“The forward who is the biggest headache is Bobby (Firmino)! Bobby is so difficult to defend. He can go any direction. He can do any kind of pass. Sometimes he was doing things that you can not even imagine. He does something crazy and you are like, ‘Wow!’
“But the first one who shocked me the first time we trained, and I was like, one day I would like, obviously I want to train every day and be on the pitch but one day, just one day of my career, I would like to just sit and watch him train is Thiago Alcantara.
“Thiago is a different class. I love watching him, the way he plays and the way he trains hard. He is very beautiful to watch.
“Other than that, everybody plays very good in training and I love to watch everyone, but they are the ones who stand out.”
As a 16-year-old, just months after joining Liverpool, Koumetio watched on as the Reds’ dismantle Messi’s Barcelona and dreamed of playing at Anfield and being part of Klopp’s team. Regardless of what comes next for the young Frenchman, he has achieved his goals and made memories that will last a lifetime.