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“There was a bit of banter flying around,” said Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. “Stuff like, ‘You won’t get back in the team, Stevie’ and ‘You’ve got a fight on next season, Gerrard, to get past Lucas and Spearo [Jay Spearing]’.
“It was all good natured. But I don’t mind all that. I know what I can do and I know the challenge ahead for me. I welcome all that. Right now, I’m just steaming for a game of football again.”
Three weeks on and the playful ribbing he received still brings a smile to midfielder Gerrard’s face. That day when he went back to his roots succeeded in planting a seed in his mind that he believes would help others at Anfield blossom.
While Cesc Fabregas was in Barcelona to watch the Formula One Grand Prix rather than being at the Emirates for Arsenal’s final game of the campaign, Gerrard’s decision to travel to the Midlands with his mates represented a touch of class.
“I was a fan for a day,” he said. “Carra [Jamie Carragher] had done it a few years ago and I’d had a few letters saying I should go to an away game. It was an eye-opener for me to get in among them. For a young player in our squad, or maybe one of the foreign lads, to have a day like that would really help them.
“Fans absolutely adore the players. Everything is about the players for them, so for a player to give up a day, mix with the fans and give a little back...well, there’s no harm in that.
“I am not putting pressure on anyone, but it is important for the players to have that link with the fans. If this club is going to be successful, everybody needs to stick together.” Gerrard is confident that, with the focus having shifted from all the shenanigans in the boardroom to what happens out on the pitch, Liverpool have recovered their identity.
He is confident, too, that he can play a leading role in a push for honours. Last season was the most frustrating of his career. He had been accustomed to 50 games a season but was restricted by injury to just 24 appearances by injury – two less than Fernando Torres played for the club before he left for Chelsea.
The memory of the twist in training on the eve of a trip to West Brom in April, with Gerrard collapsing in a heap, is still fresh.
“I was having pain-killing injections and taking tablets just to play before that. I was out there but in no real condition to be the player everyone usually watches,” he said.
“The day before I was due to come back against West Brom, I did a manoeuvre in training, and 98 per cent of my groin came off the bone. I went to see two surgeons and we could have treated it conservatively. However, I know I made the right decision to have the operation.” He is eight weeks into his recovery and will head off on a family holiday shortly with one of the club physios – Chris Morgan, Rob Pryce or Jordan Milsom – accompanying him and his family and assisting with his rehabilitation.
“For two or three hours each day I will have to work on my body to make sure I am right,” said Gerrard, who turned 31 last month. “But I don’t see that as a chore. This is me getting right for Liverpool Football Club.
“I have started doing yoga a couple of times a week as well. It absolutely wipes you out. People who think you turn up and you’re just posing in different shapes should have a go!
“I am enjoying it after the sessions because I am feeling the benefits. That is part of the reason why my groin feels so good just now.
“I’ve not kicked a ball for a long time, probably the longest I have gone in my career, and I can’t wait to get back now.
“I am excited about playing under Kenny Dalglish, just like the team did at the end of the season, which was going forward. We were playing with bottle and character and going all out to beat teams. And that always suits my style of playing.”
Gerrard is excited, too, about linking up properly with Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll and new boy Jordan Henderson, buoyed by the efforts of Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli in the transfer market and by the commitment shown by owners Fenway Sports.
The days when Liverpool were labelled a one-man team are coming to an end. “I never believed that anyway because in 2005 when we won the biggest trophy, and I had the best night of my life, we had 14 absolute heroes on the pitch. Don’t forget Neil Mellor and Florent Sinama-Pongolle, who turned the Olympiakos game in the group stage that year or we would have been out,” said Gerrard.
“Of course there have been times when I have stood out, but there have been plenty of times when I have looked to my team-mates to help me. If that ‘one-man-team’ thing never gets mentioned again that’s great as it means the team is doing well.”
That his trip to Villa ended in a 1-0 defeat, following on from the reversal against Tottenham the week before, illustrates that Liverpool still have to improve despite the feel-good factor returning to the club.
“Sometimes it is important to stay grounded and have a little reality check,” he added. “The last two results will help next season because it sends a message to players and fans that we are not the finished article. There is still an awful lot of hard work left.” He pauses, before saying: “But we don’t mind that.”
THE Steven Gerrard Foundation is committed to making a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children. For further information please visit www.stevengerrardfoundation.org