Since the introduction of designated squad numbers into the Premier League in 1993, the number 5 shirt at Liverpool has toured the pitch. By trade a centre-half’s shirt, the current incumbent is dynamic midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. For three years in the 2000s, it was in the rarefied possession of a striker, and not a converted front man at that, either. Indeed, it was that number of goals which Milan Baros scored in claiming the Golden Boot at Euro 2004, when he featured in an excellent Czech Republic side that were unluckily beaten in the semi-finals.
Liverpool snapped up the precocious marksman in early 2002 after he impressed for the Czechs at the Under 21 European Championships a couple of years previously. Complications with Baros’ work permit limited him to just one substitute appearance in the 2001/02 season, but by the start of the following season he had become a European under 21 champion and he had a Premier League debut to remember, scoring twice at Bolton and netting a late winner in the process. The 2002/03 campaign was a disappointing one for the Reds, who failed to qualify for the Champions League after a fifth-place finish, and while fellow striker El Hadji Diouf proved to be one of the most excruciating flops in the club’s history, the more understated Baros was a rare positive in that season.
The Czech striker’s involvement in 2003/04 was heavily curtailed after he suffered a serious ankle injury early in the season at Blackburn, a notoriously filthy game in which Jamie Carragher broke his leg and Liverpool had all three substitutions used before half-time. Baros then grew increasingly unhappy with manager Gerard Houllier, citing how the Frenchman sapped his confidence, but when Houllier was sacked the following summer to be replaced by Rafael Benitez, he decided to stay at Anfield, with his self-belief greatly reinvigorated by his Euro 2004 exploits.
With Michael Owen leaving that summer and new signing Djibril Cisse suffering a broken leg soon after the season’s start, Baros was Liverpool’s main striker in 2004/05 and he chipped in with some important goals en route to the Reds’ fabled Champions League triumph in Istanbul, where he started the final before being substituted for Cisse. Despite his place in history being secured by his involvement in that success, he was widely tipped to move on that summer and so he did, signing for Aston Villa just before the transfer window closed.
Baros’ career turned nomadic after that, with Lyon and Portsmouth his next ports of call before five years at Galatasaray. Since leaving the Turkish side in 2013, he has had two further spells at boyhood club Banik Ostrava, returned to Turkey with Antalayaspor and also turned out with Mlada Boleslav in his homeland, before last year’s move to Slovan Liberec. Now 35, he looks set to play out the remainder of his career in the Czech League.
Baros won’t be included in many conversations about the greatest Liverpool strikers, but he showed the best form of his club career during his time at Anfield and, when there was a serious deficit of players in that position during Benitez’s first season on Merseyside, he proved more than capable of taking on the responsibility. The “Ostravan Maradona” was dealt a tough hand at times during his Liverpool days, but he proved to be a more than decent marksman in the famous red shirt.