Steven Gerrard opens up on returning to Liverpool, Klopp and Rangers

‘I understand why the fanbase would like me back… but first and foremost you have to be good enough’: Steven Gerrard opens up to Danny Murphy on returning to Liverpool as manager, Jurgen Klopp, Rangers and Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League

  • Steven Gerrard has spoken exclusively to former team-mate Danny Murphy
  • The Liverpool legend says Gerard Houllier revolutionised standards at Liverpool
  • The former England captain wants to be fully prepared before returning as boss
  • Gerrard admitted he would like to have a managerial rivalry with Frank Lampard

Danny Murphy and Steven Gerrard won trophies together as room-mates at Liverpool and remain close friends. 

This week, the pair met up for a fascinating discussion ranging from Jurgen Klopp to Gerrard’s job as Rangers manager and what he feels about his successor as captain, Jordan Henderson, lifting the Premier League.

Danny Murphy met Steven Gerrard this week to discuss topics like Liverpool and Rangers

Danny Murphy: Stevie, when did you start fancy being a manager? I wouldn’t have said you did in the early days. Even as a young captain, you weren’t entirely comfortable taking meetings with the lads.

Steven Gerrard: Being the skipper at 23 was out of my comfort zone. I loved leading the boys out but standing up in front of Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler, people I’d watched, was hard. My first talk to the Rangers players reminded me of that. I got through it but came out thinking: ‘I need more practice.’

I’d have predicted 100 per cent Carra would be a manager. You as well, probably. For me, it changed in my thirties. I’d watch Brendan Rodgers and it looked as if he really enjoyed it. He suggested I took my coaching badges.

DM: The best thing about you being captain was you’d get the tickets!

SG: Half the main stand was your lot from Chester I reckon.

DM: Gerard Houllier was manager. Rafa [Benitez] and Jurgen [Klopp] have won the Champions League. I feel Gerard is a bit under-appreciated in laying the foundations.

SG: He revolutionised the standards at Liverpool. He changed diets, training, introduced the first fitness coach and better personnel.

Gerrard said that it was Brendan Rodgers who suggested he should take his coaching badges

DM: No mobile phones, all wear the same colour T-shirts.

SG: The ketchup went. At the time, we were “What’s this?” I remember Gerard going against Robbie and Incey [Paul Ince]. If you weren’t prepared to go along with what he wanted, you were out. He wanted to know exactly what I was doing off the pitch. 

He took me and my mum and dad to dinner and I was left under no illusions. The message to my parents was don’t let him go out and drink and pick his mates carefully. It had to be this way or I wouldn’t be around Liverpool for long.

DM: He’d stop you in training for chats. He’d notice if you hadn’t shaved. I’d not had that with any other manager. Do you remember we’d leave our hotel room open hoping he’d pop his head in and drop us the team? It worked once: “Don’t tell anyone but be ready for tomorrow.”

SG: We’d be jumping around the room. We had all the tricks. Eating slowly in the canteen to be last with the manager, hoping he’d give you the nod about the line-up. 

When I think now, winning the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup in one season was incredible. Think what a club like Spurs or Everton would give for that?

DM: We preferred playing in the middle but someone had to do the graveyard shift on the right or left.

Gerrard also revealed being the Liverpool skipper at just 23 was out of his comfort zone

SG: Honest to God it used to proper pull on my insides when I’d be playing on the right. Not so much at 19 or 20 but Rafa did it to me later on. I stayed professional but felt out of it. I grew up in the middle of the pitch and liked looking for the ball, probably too much.

DM: Has that influenced the way you manage? I think being open does create respect.

SG: If a player is coming out the team, I’ll try to have a respectful chat why. It may not be a case of being dropped but needing a blow after a run of games. When I played, nothing was said. You’d get in the car wondering where you stood. You can’t communicate like that all the time. But if it’s a big fixture and someone was expecting to play and could be down, an explanation definitely helps.

DM: People will assume you’re the next Liverpool manager because of your status as a player.

SG: I understand why because I was captain for so long and a large chunk of the fanbase would like me back at the club. But I’m bright enough to realise that, first and foremost, you have to be good enough. The owners need to think you’re the right man.

Gerrard credits Gerard Houllier (left) for revolutionising the standards at Liverpool

Let’s say Klopp wins the Premier League, Champions League and goes because he feels he can’t do any more. They aren’t going to pick me if I am only the 20th best candidate.

And nobody asks if I think I need two or three goes elsewhere. If I got the chance [at Liverpool] I’d want to be best prepared. You can’t plan everything season by season. If things turn in months, you’d be out of work. 

That’s how brutal the job is, but you are aware before you go in. Jurgen Klopp told me he’d made two years of mistakes away from the cameras, getting his pitch confidence. That is what I did at Liverpool with the youngsters. I didn’t go into Rangers thinking I’d cracked it. Am I ready for the Liverpool job right now? Maybe not.

DM: I know you’ll want to try to win everything with Rangers but the fans have to be happy with the past 20 months, closer to Celtic and a run in Europe.

SG: I’m pleased. We’ve improved the team, stadium, training ground, medical department and sport science. There has been definite progress, but I don’t sit back content.

I need to keep pushing this in every way. We are 10 points or so better off than last year but so are Celtic. It is still a huge challenge. It is hard to chase something that is powerful and improving themselves. Can we get there? That is the interesting thing. I have belief.

Gerrard admits he wants to be fully prepared before taking over at Anfield in the future

DM: From the outside, you’ve swapped one goldfish bowl for another, Liverpool for Glasgow, with time in Los Angeles in between.

SG: Liverpool and Glasgow have similarities but it’s different for me. I had to live in Liverpool with my family. It’s my city. I go to schools, shops, out and about.

I went to America because I’d been in Liverpool all my life and wanted a different experience. I didn’t enjoy the ending at Liverpool either. Partly because of the Chelsea thing, coming so close to winning the league but also because it felt they’d offered me a year’s contract because I was Steven Gerrard and they didn’t want the fan backlash. Deep down, I thought they wanted me to go.

DM: That’s how it looked. It happened to Frank Lampard at Chelsea. It happened to me at Fulham. We’d had the best season in the club’s history and they gestured me a contract. You’re left feeling it’s time to leave.

SG: That was the reality for me but it still hurt. I didn’t want to play for another team in this country, but I didn’t want to stop playing. Would I have done things differently in hindsight? Yes, because things changed at Liverpool. If I’d signed a year extension, I may have got a chance to play for Klopp, which would have been a different learning curve. But from a lifestyle point of view, and me freshening up for the next challenge in my life, it was probably the right thing.

DM: It was hard for Jordan Henderson to follow you as Liverpool captain but in the past two years I’ve thought “Wow”. He’ll never be you but he has become a great leader. I wouldn’t want to play against him. I think he’s the first name in England’s midfield for Euro 2020.

Jordan Henderson succeeded Gerrard as captain and the Rangers boss praised his endeavour

SG: We both know there are players who are “at it” every day. I appreciated Jordan’s power and fitness by training with him. Some players play for themselves, Jordan does the dirty running, grappling for second balls, 12 or 13km Saturday and Wednesday, again and again. Teams can’t function at Liverpool’s level without a cog like Jordan Henderson. He’s obviously going be a Premier League winner. I look at him and think: good for you.

He has that confidence now. He has lifted the European Cup above his head. I don’t deserve one iota of credit, he has done it all himself, but I remember a chat with Jordan in LA a while ago and he wasn’t sure whether he was coming or going at the club. I remember saying to him don’t give up on Liverpool, you’ll be fine. I knew what he had inside and that he would get there. You know with certain people.

DM: Where did you watch the Champions League final win against Spurs?

SG: I went. It was the first time I’d been to a final as a fan. I’d done TV work at the 2018 final when they lost to Real Madrid but I thought I’d accept Liverpool’s invite this time, have a nice glass of wine and be with Kenny [Dalglish], Rushy [Ian Rush] and all the staff.

I had a lump in my throat because Kenny was next door to me crying. I ended up more emotional because Kenny was crying rather than the result! It was great and there were some players there from the back end of my era. I knew the pain we’d been through.

He said he was emotional watching Kenny Dalglish cry after the 2019 Champions League final

DM: You’re celebrating a 40th birthday this year. Planning anything for the big day, May 30?

SG: Don’t mention it, I’ve got greys popping out all over the gaff! I’ll be with my family. My daughter is doing GCSEs and her half-term falls right on my birthday. So, a real family celebration, no plans for football.

DM: I don’t see many worry lines. Must be the botox!

SG: You didn’t see me a couple of weeks ago when we lost at Kilmarnock! I remember Rafa Benitez saying to me as a manager you have to be a good actor. Put the face on. Sometimes you feel angry but be positive. When you’re manager, people follow your lead.

DM: Houllier would go into a back room to gather his thoughts. Even if he was fuming, he’d be calm in front of the camera.

SG: I need to get better at that.

DM: You were excited after beating Celtic.

Gerrard said that deep down, he thought Liverpool wanted him to leave despite a new offer

SG: I’ll never apologise for being authentic. I am passionate after a win. I don’t think people on the outside understand the pressures you are under in that moment. I do ask myself if it was too much but then I think Celtic beat Aberdeen last weekend, and 11 players and Neil Lennon are jumping about and celebrating with the fans. I’m totally fine with it.

There are still parts of me where I do things and think ‘I could’ve done that a little bit better’. And I don’t think that will ever go away.

DM: Self-analysis is good. For anyone. If you don’t do it, you are arrogant. You’re in your second season as a manager, Frank Lampard is in his second season. Funny how your careers are so closely aligned.

SG: I admire Frank for his bottle, leading Chelsea in the biggest league in the world during a transfer ban. I’m proud of him as a former team-mate.

There will naturally be a comparison to me and Frank because there was when we were players. Could we play together? Who was better? There is still an element of that but the reality is we are in two completely different jobs.

DM: I’d like to see it become a top managerial rivalry over the next 10 or 15 years.

Gerrard and Murphy were teammates at Liverpool and won trophies together at the club 

SG: So would I. I’m sure Frank has had the same thoughts. But I’d also love to become a rival to Jose Mourinho. Even now, I am a rival to Neil Lennon and Derek McInnes. I hope I’m involved in this game a long time, but we know a bad couple of years and I’ll be sitting next to you on Match of the Day.

DM: I’ve said before I remember you nodding off in team meetings at Liverpool. I can’t imagine what you’d think if one of your players had a snooze while you spoke about Rangers v Celtic.

SG: Let me put you right there, our meetings at Liverpool could last 40 minutes. My meetings are eight to 12 minutes.

DM: It didn’t affect your performances though.

SG: That’s the key. If someone nods off in one of my team meetings and gets the winner against Celtic, I’ll get him a pillow! One thing will never change, players are still motivated by money and days off.

We had one bad training session after the players had gone on a break, I threatened to restrict days off unless they bucked up. The next session was the best we’ve ever had. It was like watching Brazil.

Gerrard admitted he would like to see a managerial rivalry develop with Frank Lampard

DM: We can’t leave without mentioning Jurgen Klopp again. He’s honest with his players. He warned them last weekend that Norwich were better than the league position suggested and that’s why Liverpool respected them and won the game 1-0.

SG: He has this stature. When he walks in a room, it’s “Whoa”. If he was your manager you’d think “I am running here”. This Liverpool team are monsters and it’s come from him the moment he arrived.

For the players to have that level of respect for their manager in a modern dressing room is special. You can see everyone is tuned in, physically and mentally. To get that from your players is a tough nut to crack. And I sense Liverpool is growing again around the world.

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