Thursday 19 September 2019

'I've no divine right to be the next manager of Liverpool' - Jamie Carragher in conversation with Steven Gerrard

 

Jamie Carragher talks to his former Liverpool team-mate and now Rangers manager Steven Gerrard in Edinburgh this week. Photo: Stuart Nicol
Jamie Carragher talks to his former Liverpool team-mate and now Rangers manager Steven Gerrard in Edinburgh this week. Photo: Stuart Nicol

Jamie Carragher

As I prepare question one to my friend, ex-team-mate and now Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard asks me: "After some big scoop then are yer?".

As the tape recorder starts, I have to admit it feels strange. This is not so much an interview as an Anfield reunion.

We're meeting in an Edinburgh hotel as Gerrard oversees final arrangements ahead of Rangers' pre-Christmas fixture with Hibernian. Another former Liverpool team-mate, Gary McAllister, is nearby. So too is Liverpool's former club doctor Mark Waller, who joined Stevie at Ibrox.

As players we wondered if a day like this would come, one of us managing while the other works in the media. Gerrard has made sacrifices I could not make to become a coach.

I want to know how he feels about this and what kind of football he wants his team to play.

I want to know where he now sees his management career evolving and whether he believes two of England's finest players in recent history - he and Frank Lampard - are to become part of a golden generation of coaches.

Brendan Rodgers with Steven Gerrard in 2015. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Brendan Rodgers with Steven Gerrard in 2015. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

But first I want to know what he has found to be the biggest difference between being captain of one of Britain's biggest clubs to managing.

"The time," he tells me.

"You are always thinking about the job. It has smacked me in the face straight away that when you go home you are immediately thinking about what you are going to do next, who you need to speak to, what fixture is coming up and what needs to be done to prepare for that next fixture. It is very hard to switch off.

"When I was a player, after your 90-minute session you might only think you need a massage, some time in the gym and by 1.30pm that's it. Basically, there is nothing else to do until the next day.

"You might have the school runs or helping kids do homework, but you are lost in being a player. Come off the training pitch. Job done. Now when I finish the training session I am thinking, 'Who do I need to speak to? Do we need a team meeting? Do I need to prepare stuff on the opposition? Do I need a meeting with the analysts?' Then in the car you are wondering how many missed calls you have had, agents trying to get hold of you and whatever. It is a far busier schedule. The day is longer."

I tell Stevie this is one of the reasons I could not become a manager. I did not want to be a manager enough to have it impact on my family life. That must be tough for someone who spent all but the last year of his career on Merseyside?

"That has been the biggest challenge for me," he admits.

"Alex (Stevie's wife) has obviously been really good with that. It is tougher for her than me. It helps my girls being in school. With my youngest, Leo, it is tougher.

"He is at that age where he is shouting my name. I have to make the effort to get to Liverpool as much as I can.

"I plan my week so there is at least one afternoon training session and I can get home to stay overnight. Alex makes a big effort to get up to Glasgow every weekend. It helps me switch off. I need that."

It feels like Stevie's management career has been mapped out. Start at Liverpool's Academy, get a big job at Rangers, win a few trophies at Ibrox, complete the coaching apprenticeship and then come back home when Jurgen Klopp's time is up. Easy.

This theory does not impress him.

"Liverpool have one of the best managers in the world and are flying high. Just because you have been a successful player does not mean you have the divine right to be next in the queue," he said.

"Just because you are popular with the fans it does not make you the right man to replace Klopp, if and when he goes. It is very presumptuous.

"It is also disrespectful to Rangers given the size of this club and everything they have gone through to just assume I have come here to learn and use it as a stepping stone to Liverpool. I do not see it like that, although that talk is something I cannot control.

"I am desperate to be successful at Rangers. I understand the size of the club, and how much the fans want success. I am committed to it. I am giving everything I have got. Whether that leads to an extension here or on to a different challenge, I don't know. That would depend on the challenge.

"But I do not see myself as someone who will end up managing 10 or 12 different clubs, going here, there and everywhere and different countries. Right now, I just don't see that. And this job has all my attention."

So, has being a world-renowned player - the symbol of Liverpool for so long - been a help or hindrance in this new world?

"In certain parts it helps," he says.

"When I first came to see the players I could see they were hanging on to every word. They were as excited about it as I was.

"Then there are certain things I have read where it can go the other way where people think you have only got the job because of your name and you are not as good as other managers who have been around for 20 years.

"They think you have taken a short-cut. They will doubt you. If you lose a game they will mention inexperience.

"The greatest advantage was instant respect from the players. That does not last forever. I have to manage and prove myself and show them I am good at my job.

"I realised quickly that this is not a club where you will get much time. When we win you feel the fire and intensity - how much the fans want it and how much it means. If it flips... I have been around the game long enough to know you are not going to get four or five years.

Expectations

"You can't come in here and say, 'This is a four or five-year project' like I have heard Liverpool managers say. I am not naïve.

"This is a club which is all about results, just as it was at Liverpool. If you don't get them people get carried away, and if you do it is the same and the expectations go through the roof as has happened recently.

"I had the most difficult eight days after we went top for the first time. We beat Hearts and then everyone gets carried away. I got carried away.

"You think you are in a really good place. Then you lose at home to Aberdeen, a big rival, and the fans turn quickly. Then we go to Dundee, bottom of the league, and the draw is like a defeat. Then we went out of Europe. It was tough.

"That takes you back to a period as a player - maybe that period under Roy Hodgson where everything felt tough and horrible. It felt like that. You just want that win to bring calm."

Does winning as coach not compare to being a player, then?

"I look back at some of my celebrations as a player and think I milked it a bit there. Now I look at my celebrations when we score and think I may have done it too much.

"There may be half-an-hour left. What if you lose the game 2-1? It's like the Klopp one in the derby. I am sure if he had his time again he would get carried away without going on the pitch. But you know yourself, when you get lost in the emotion it is hard to control. I am emotional so I get lost in it.

"The six months have gone well. You have good moments and bad. If you lose it does your head in for a day. As manager you have to get over it very quickly."

Upon his appointment, the immediate aim was to make Rangers compete again. Flirtations with league leadership mean today's Old Firm meeting will have more bearing on who wins the league than was imagined not long ago.

Our former manager Brendan Rodgers' presence at Celtic adds flavour to the rivalry.

"As my former manager he would have been someone I leaned on just starting in management," says Gerrard.

"I think it is difficult to do that now. Look, I had a good relationship when it was captain and manager but we never socialised beyond the training ground. You would exchange texts and speak, but it was not like you went for dinner or met for coffee.

"Last week I was on the phone to Rafa (Benitez) and had a few conversations. I spoke to him for about 20 minutes, talking about certain teams. I have spoken to Gareth Southgate while doing my pro-licence. I still speak to Alex Inglethorpe (LFC Academy director) quite a bit, so yes, Brendan would also have been one of those people.

"Because of the rivalry he would not want to tell me anything and I would not want to tell him anything. It is impossible to have that relationship with him.

"But we have exchanged texts on certain occasions over certain things. I think people want there to be an issue and problem between us, to see us go fiery, toe-to-toe on the line. Now if that happens in the game, it happens. We both want to win.

"I just think people assumed there would be fireworks. I am not saying there never will be because in a game of football you never know how you are going to react, but at the moment everything is respectful."

So how does derby day in Glasgow compare to Merseyside?

"Media-wise it is more intense around the Old Firm. Around the city you feel it. The game experience was actually similar to a Merseyside derby. Being at Celtic Park was like going to Goodison. It is fiery and abusive. In terms of everyday life, Glasgow is similar to Liverpool. The people are similar, you have two big clubs in the city. The size of the city is similar.

"I get a little bit of s*** from Celtic fans, but I don't go out as much here as I would at home, probably because I do not need to. If I went into the town centre I would get some praise and stick."

Not all great players become successful managers. I wonder how frustrating it is coaching players who cannot perform to the level you did?

"At times I have had to hold back or bite my tongue, or manage in a different way to how I would express myself as a player to a team-mate."

"The biggest challenge for an ex-player is to evolve with how the game is changing.

"Young players are different now. In my career the first half was with what you might call 'old-school players', like Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler, and, to some extent, yourself."

"What, drinkers you mean?" I joke.

"No, I mean players who were around and understood that era of football when it was really old-school and you would got a rollicking, told to go for a run every Tuesday but could still have a night out every now and again.

In the back end of my career all that had changed. There were non-drinkers, there was more social media around. I think I experienced it in such a way that it was easier for me than maybe those of a previous generation who needed to get used to a new breed of players and how they are. I use social media myself.

Old-school

"What's good in my dressing-room is we still have a bit of the old-school in there with Scott Arfield and Alan McGregor.

"They help me manage the dressing-room and will keep the young lads' feet on the ground. I manage them a bit different to the younger lads."

Standards-wise, I am all over the 'I feel ex-players like Gerrard and Lampard have more than the goodwill of Rangers and Derby fans on their side'. There is a broader desire for the reputation of young English coaching to change - players who have benefited from the wisdom of great continental managers - to use that education and take it to the next level.

"I have not had time to think I am flying the flag for anyone," said Gerrard.

"I have thought about Frank a lot, watch his games and see how he is doing. But it is two different challenges, even though people want to compare us to each other and our previous managers.

"Every job is different. Frank has the pressure where, minimum, he has to get to the play-offs, probably. You can finish in the top six to get that. Up here, people say there are only two big teams. Rightly or wrongly, they say that. So if I don't finish first, they will say it is not a success. It is different."

But you must have what all young managers have? A philosophy.

"I had an idea when I was at The Academy how I want my team to look, but I needed an assistant like Michael Beale (former Liverpool U-23 coach) around me. I have a favourite formation but I am prepared to change it for different games.

"Before we play Hamilton Academical I know we are going to have the majority of the ball. I know they are going to play in a block. You and I have played in enough games like that at Anfield. It is hard.

"Then you have Villarreal on exactly the same pitch and the standard of their player is completely different. It's all right wanting to press Villarreal like I would Hamilton, but if we do that we can get torn apart.

"The challenge for us has been adapting from game to game. My preparation for Hamilton will be completely different than for Villarreal. That is in the space of four days and not much time on the training pitch.

"So to have Michael with 20 years' experience is invaluable, and then Gary McAllister who knows what I need to be looking for on the training ground, knows the Scottish game and can study opponents and tell me what they are going to try against us. He knows a lot of the managers and what approach they have.

"The last pro-licence course was gold dust for me, telling me where you need to have the support staff. I knew where I was short."

This is the same Steven Gerrard I have always known. Candid, determined, but willing to listen to other voices rather than presume he has the answers.

"I want to be authentic," he says.

"If I get it wrong, I am being me. I don't mind going down that way. If I try and be clever and get it wrong, or it backfires, I would not live with that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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