Steven Gerrard already planning his Liverpool comeback
Anfield legend says he will be back one day
Steven Gerrard will say his farewell to Anfield this weekend, but plans for him to rejoin Liverpool as part of Brendan Rodgers' coaching staff are already in place.
The Liverpool captain has held talks with club chairman Tom Werner and manager Rodgers on how he can be integrated into the backroom team once his playing career is over.
Initially, it is likely Gerrard will shadow Rodgers - becoming a coaching apprentice in the tradition of the Anfield bootroom - before he has the experience and qualifications to take a full-time position. That process could begin as early as next January, during the break in the Major League Soccer season, and after that it can be established what kind of permanent role is suitable once he has retired from playing. He has an 18-month contract with LA Galaxy.
Rodgers is eager for Gerrard to learn his trade before being thrust into a job but is enthusiastic about mentoring the captain, detailing the particular demands of modern management. The 34-year-old is taking his Uefa 'B' licence. The question of if Gerrard will ever return to Anfield has swiftly evolved into that of when it will happen and what form it will take.
"I don't know at the moment what's going to be there after America but I'll certainly be coming back," says Gerrard. "I'm actually sitting here now thinking more about whether there's a role for me to come back to at the club in the future to try to contribute again rather than thinking about what I'd like to change in the past.
"I have had a couple of brief conversations; I had a chat with Tom Werner and one recently with Brendan about what I am thinking about, short term and long term. But there is certainly nothing in detail. I have started on the coaching ladder but we will have to wait and see."
Gerrard's exit has been typically classy. He spent this week presenting all 40 members of Melwood's staff - from the gatemen through to the caterers to Rodgers himself - with a signed No 8 jersey and personalised message thanking them for their support over the last 17 years.
There will a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the centre circle when the final whistle blows against Crystal Palace tomorrow, but Gerrard says the lesson he has heeded is to never outstay your welcome and leave them wanting more.
"When I played alongside Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher, we spoke a lot about when do you make the decision to go - when is it right?" says Gerrard.
"I have always agreed that you go a touch early, when people want a tiny bit more, rather than when people on the terraces or around the city are saying 'You stayed too long', and they're trying to kick you out of the door.
"I don't think it's the case that Liverpool should have done anything different to try to keep me. I've made a decision and I think it's the right time. That's what it comes down to and once I'd made that decision I don't think there's much the club could have done.
"I'm 35 in a couple of weeks' time and I'm not really sure how much more I could give the club at the level I'd like - going back to when I peaked from 23 to 30 years old. The reality is that I'm getting too old for this level and maybe a different level will suit me more.
"When I came away from England and at the start of the season I honestly thought I'd be playing on for another season after this one. But I think the way the season's gone, I have been getting messages and feelings that I got the timing right."
Gerrard conducted his final newspaper interview in Anfield's 'Number 7 Lounge', where those who have worn the most treasured of Liverpool jerseys - Ian Callaghan, Kenny Dalglish, Peter Beardsley and Luis Suarez - adorn the walls. They will have to create a 'Number 8' room dedicated to him.
After almost two decades as a club emblem, the last few weeks have felt like Gerrard going through the process of unburdening himself of the intensity.
"I have been in the spotlight in this city, in this team, for 17 years," he says. "What some people don't understand is sometimes it's a tough place to live and be a player as well. So I think there will be a relief and a release in a couple of weeks. I've lived for my profession on and off the pitch.
"I've made some mistakes along the way of course, maybe having a few nights out at the wrong time and there's been some performances that I'd like to change for the team and individually. But that's just not possible, that's life.
"I assess it over the 17 years. When I first started watching Liverpool on the terraces and playing football in the street it was a hobby. Playing for Liverpool was a dream. So looking back at what I've achieved I'm immensely happy and proud of how it's gone. I've got a couple of regrets but I think that's totally normal; I don't think there are many footballers who finish a career and have only good memories.
"Everyone will always have a few regrets in there but I don't think I'd do much differently because I've always tried to apply myself in the right way. All the way through my career it has been a journey of ups and downs and different emotions.
"It's been about being on top of the world, being on the floor, and I don't think you achieve those highs without experiencing the pain and the lows as well.
"After a bad performance, a setback, in bad moments in my career, the pain and the hurt is tough to take and it is difficult at that time. But they are the moments, for me, that help spur you on to good times and bring the good times back, because no one likes that feeling of being down and being hurt.
"The title is the biggest (regret). I thought over the 17-year period that I'd get the chance to win the title and I did on a couple of occasions, last season being the best chance. That makes it a bit more painful because it's so recent."
Gerrard will be missed beyond his contribution on the field. Liverpool is more of a village than a city, and it is not just every performance, but every quote, every smile and scowl and every night out that has provoked opinion since 1998. Each season has compelled him to deliver at least one mood-defining state-of-the-nation address to fans, his words carrying a gravitas some of his colleagues could only aspire to.
"I have always tried to be honest, on and off the pitch," he says. "I have always tried to be honest with the media. I have always wanted to show people that what they see is real, no falseness or me trying to be something that I am not. I have always tried to play in a certain way, so that people enjoy what they see. That is how I have tried to go about it, really."
So what kind of Liverpool does he leave behind? In 1998, Gerrard broke into a side trying to marry the traditions of the past with a modern, forward-thinking future. He leaves with Anfield's month of many anniversaries serving as a reminder of a disappointing season. Is it so different?
"I obviously don't want to stand on the owners' or Brendan's toes - I am just speaking as a fan and having an opinion on where Liverpool are at this moment," he said.
"We have got the right owners in charge, the right manager; there is a core of potential. The important thing for me - and this is my opinion - is if you can add some players who are ready. For me, I wouldn't buy any more potential in the short term. I would buy players who are ready to come and fight and win and be successful.
"We need to bring players in those forward positions who can score 25-30 goals and then you will see Liverpool do an awful lot better next season.
"The way the game's gone now there's no place for players who aren't physically strong because the game is a lot quicker and more physical and I think this league's going to become even more difficult to win every single year.
"Teams are getting stronger and better year in year out and come the summer you're going to see four or five teams spending big again. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. The way football has gone now, players just want to play in the Champions League.
"That is the key. You try to push into the top four. That is the disappointing thing from this season. We have come up a bit short. But there is no doubt in my mind that if we had Daniel (Sturridge) fit from day one, we would be talking about Champions League for this team this year.
"People say it's vital and it's crucial to have a Scouse heartbeat and local players. I think that is nice but I don't think it is the be all and end all. It is important there is a group of players here who are very good footballers and they have got a coach in charge who is very good tactically.
"That is when success comes. The important thing for the future is that we keep trying to attract world-class players that can help contribute to success. That is how you win games and tournaments. It is as simple as that.
"I have felt like a fan myself when good players have gone. Nobody feels it worse than the supporters when you love the club. But it always comes good.
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"It is too big a club for it not to come good again. It might not be a short-term thing, who knows? I hope it is."
Few players are granted a farewell performance such as Gerrard's this weekend. It is appropriate, but the sense of sorrow has time to linger.
"I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of if you shed a tear, especially if you have a love and affection for the supporters," says Gerrard.
"I am dreading that moment when the final whistle comes. I'll remember getting on the bus to the Liverpool Centre of Excellence with my dad, getting two buses in the rain and the cold and the ice and snow, and just going back to that moment when it all began.
"When I made the announcement in January this was the time I was regretting really, because I knew how tough it was going to be. But it's here now, I have to get on with it, play and say my goodbyes in the right way."
When Gerrard ended his England career he gave himself an unremarkable six out of 10. Asked to put a number on his club contribution, he sees the tackle coming.
"You're just after a headline, aren't you?" he laughs. "I'm not going to judge my Liverpool career out of 10. But I can judge two performances for you. I'll give Istanbul nine and I'll give the last game against Manchester United at home zero. Is that all right?
"Once it's actually done and I am away, if my name ever comes up, they will remember what I have done for 17 years rather than a short space of time.
"I hope they do, anyway."