Sunday 17 November 2019

Steven Gerrard: 'My teams will be physical - but in the right way'

Steven Gerrard tells Chris Bascombe there will be no hiding place in Liverpool's academy when he takes the reins next term

Steven Gerrard looks on from the dugout during a recent Liverpool under 18s game. Photo: GETTY
Steven Gerrard looks on from the dugout during a recent Liverpool under 18s game. Photo: GETTY

Chris Bascombe

Steven Gerrard was waiting to address Liverpool's U-18s, the side he will manage next season, for the first time when the coach Neil Critchley ushered him forward ahead of a fixture with Manchester City.

What followed was the kind of emotional speech that made Gerrard a leader for club and country.

There were no niceties. No tentative, polite words of encouragement. Gerrard demanded that they won every first tackle and let not a minute pass without remembering the badge on the jersey.

He spoke to the team like men, not boys, offering an authentic glimpse of the culture and the demands of senior football. Bridging the gap between the U-18s and the first team is an area of development that is of most concern to English football.

"The room was so pumped up I felt like putting on a shirt and playing myself," remarked another former player who witnessed it.

City's U-18s had not lost a league game for 28 months. Liverpool won 2-0.

Steven Gerrard taking some advice from manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: GETTY
Steven Gerrard taking some advice from manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: GETTY

Gerrard offers a diplomatic "no comment" when asked about his inaugural lecture, but his vision of the game mirrors how he played. When he quips that he will be encouraging plenty of "50-50s" in his coaching sessions, you sense it is only half in jest.

Read more: John Giles: Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool are in a very bad place and it's the manager's fault

"My teams will be physical, but it is important you channel it in the right way," he says. "As a player I got many tackles wrong and went over the top a few times and had to apologise.


"That is not something I want to put into kids or young players, but you have to prepare them for the top level, which is physical and demanding and it is not just about tackles and competing.

"It is about trying to prepare for the last five or 10 minutes of games when it is hard and your legs are burning and your heart is burning and it is not a nice place to be. You have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that.

"I've seen a lot of players who have come out of the academy with huge reputations and go into the Melwood dressing-room and then it is sink or swim and a lot of them sink. A lot of them are shocked with the step up.

"I like streetwise footballers. I think all the top players come from the street. The kids in our academy are coming into an unbelievable place to work. What you have to drive into the players is that, while they are here, you have to make sacrifices and give it their best. Don't get too comfortable because the hard work starts when you get out the academy.

"But there is a pathway there because we have a manager (Jurgen Klopp) who will play them."

Liverpool have confirmed Gerrard's elevation as full-time U-18s manager from next season, their former captain opting for the extended route to senior management, having rejected several offers to plunge straight in.

By September he will have his Uefa 'A' coaching badge.

"I spoke to Jurgen and we agreed after a few chats that the 18s was the right age because it still gives you a bit of a spotlight with the coverage it gets, but you have a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and grow and learn," says Gerrard.

"The other offers I got it would have been in at the deep end and I probably wasn't ready. The 18s made sense.

"I have been shadowing five or six coaches at the academy and been mentored by Steve Heighway and Alex Inglethorpe. The deal with Alex was, if you're going to mentor me, be honest and straight with me. If you see something I am doing wrong or you want me to change something then tell me because, if you don't, I'll never learn anything.

"He talked to me about my coaching voice and body language in coaching sessions. He wants it to be the same as it was when I was a player, when I was captain.

"I haven't had to make any big decisions, or any substitutions, formations or tactics just yet. But I am really, really excited and looking forward to starting it next season."

Before his first day in February, Inglethorpe wrote to parents to urge their youngsters to treat Gerrard like every other coach.

"When Steven is on site, please do not ask for photos or autographs because, as used to attention he may be, he is there to do a job," wrote the academy director.

Rather than a distraction, Gerrard's status is added motivation for those seeking to emulate him. His words resonate more. "I hope so because I've been through that process from the age of eight," says Gerrard.

"I've had the injuries, I've had the highs and lows and that will help me moving forward as a manager and coach. I'll treat players how I expect to be treated myself. I will be similar as I was as a player and see how it goes." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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