Steven Gerrard: This has been the worst period of my life
Chelsea slip, World Cup pain and Suarez exit left Liverpool skipper on canvas – now he's ready to go again
Published 30/07/2014 | 02:30
The Steven Gerrard rallying cry seemed destined to be the defining voice in a thrilling Premier League climax.
The camera probed the Liverpool huddle following victory over Manchester City and captured their captain at his most impassioned. "We go again. We do not let this slip," Gerrard commanded his team-mates.
Two weeks later, the journey to the title ended with a torturous twist, when Gerrard slipped and gifted Chelsea the first goal in a decisive 2-0 defeat. The title was gone, and Gerrard had begun what he describes now as the worst three months of his life.
World Cup despair followed in June. July has seen his international retirement and the sale of Luis Suarez. It would be easier for Gerrard to see this season as a form of exorcism, but these demons are to be confronted, not expelled.
"Anything you don't especially want to talk about?" Liverpool's press officer discreetly asks him.
"No," is the immediate, typically forthright response.
It feels cruel, but the impact of that Chelsea game and what Gerrard has been through since cannot be ignored.
"You're brave to ask about that. How do you think it was? You tell me," Gerrard replies.
"The worst day of your life?"
"There's your answer," Gerrard says. "It's probably been the worst three months of my life. I've seen it a few times. I don't have to watch something like that to go through the pain again and again and again.
"I've been through the pain in the dressing-room after and in the weeks and months since. I just stumbled across it. It didn't hide away. I have TVs in my house and I read papers. There is social media.
"When something like that happens, you have to face up to it and be man enough to take it on the chin. Accept it happened. You can't change it. I haven't lost my man at a set-piece. I haven't missed a penalty. I haven't made a bad pass or a mistake. That's why it was cruel. Every single person on the planet slips at some point in their life, whether it is on a set of stairs, on the floor or whatever.
"For me, it happened on the pitch at a really bad moment. But over the course of 38 games a lot happens for you and against you and that determines whether you win the league or not. That moment happened at a crucial time and I have to face that. And I will do.
"I don't need something like that to inspire me. When I have had unbelievable highs for the club, it wasn't because I was inspired by a mistake.
"You have to go through tough times. Unfortunately, I have had that tough time at club level at the end of the season and then I have gone into a World Cup hoping that it was going to go really well to help me get over it.
"But it backfired. I have had two massive, unbelievable lows in a short space of time, so it is a good test for me this season. Can I hit form after that? I believe that I can.
"Of course it is tough to take but you have to move on sharpish. We have to try to win the league, progress in the Champions League. There are massive games to look forward to.
"When you're the captain, you can't afford to be down, feel sorry for yourself and mope around. Everyone in this group looks to me to see what mood I'm in, so I have to shake it off quick. Every time I speak to the media, it's going to be mentioned.
"I appreciate how big it is when you go out of the World Cup and when you fall short after going close to the title. The level I play means it can be a cruel game. It's not always going to be celebrations, smiles and highs. There are always going to be heartbreaks and disappointments and the last three months have been a massive disappointment.
"At 34, there is no way I am going to let the last three months be the things I remember. It's important to finish on a high."
After the failure of the World Cup redemption plan, Gerrard reluctantly retired from England and the international captaincy, partly to prolong his Liverpool career, but also with his family – he has three daughters – in mind.
"I've had a couple of sad days since I made the announcement because I know I'm not going to play for England again," he says. "I've been playing for England since I was in the U-15s. I don't feel like a weight has been lifted because I never saw it as a burden.
"I used to love going down there and knowing I was going to be captain. To be fair to Brendan (Rodgers), when I had the chat with him, he said: 'If you want to carry on for England, I can tailor your Liverpool games'.
"When he said that, it made me go 100pc with my decision because I don't want my Liverpool games to be tailored. I still want to be available, I want to be fresh and play at a high level for Liverpool for certainly one more season.
"We will have to wait and see if there are any more after that. Of course, I'm going to feel fresher and benefit from not playing. I'm also going to be more liked in my house with being at home more. That was one of my reasons – to be around the girls a bit more.
"You sort of feel like you are lying to them all the time. It's difficult to say to them you are going away for four to six weeks. Then they are on the phone and on FaceTime saying they want you home. It does become difficult being away. I've done it for 14 years. I had to be fair to my family, but to Liverpool as well."
After Brazil and missing out on the title, Suarez's sale ensured a triple whammy, but Gerrard is adamant the club is in a strong enough position to recover from his departure.
"I am his No 1 fan. I love him to bits as a player and no doubt there is a hole that will be left when someone like that leaves," he says. "Everyone's initial thoughts were to be down and sad, but it was the same when Torres moved on.
"This club is so big that it moves forward, it's not about one player. We have been sharp in the transfer market to fill the hole and soften the blow of a world-class player going. Everyone needs to share the responsibility of Luis moving on and that starts with me.
"We are a good team, with a good manager, that is getting stronger. The confidence is rising in the dressing-room and we have got to show that we are the real deal.
"Good sides don't just have one good season. They keep trying to fight for what they want. Chelsea do it. Manchester City do it. Manchester United have had a one-off bad season and they will be back. Arsenal have made a couple of really good signings.
"The league is going to be very, very tough but we know we are one of the sides that has got a genuine chance."
The 'we go again' mantra would feel appropriate if it did not carry such baggage, but Gerrard is ready to repeat it. Liverpool play the champions Manchester City in New York today with Gerrard preferring to see last season as the catalyst for another title bid rather than a last chance that went begging.
This unburdening session ends sounding more therapeutic than despondent. "When I see that huddle against Man City it's real, it was from my heart," says Gerrard.
"I was emotional at the time as we had just beaten them. We were so close. It was a reminder to everyone that there was still work to do and, as it proved, there was. You guys know me well enough, I'll keep going and I'll go again." (© Daily Telegraph, London)