Gerrard seeks to stop the sideshow

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The Independent Online

For once, Steven Gerrard had little choice but to take the criticism that flowed his way from the disgruntled Manchester United supporter who stood before him on Tuesday evening. But then this was comedy night at the Circle Club, where the England squad had gathered for a novel team bonding exercise organised by Steve McClaren, and the local turn was merely venting his spleen on a professional basis. Saturday's reception at Old Trafford promises to come without the laughter.

Gerrard is one of several England internationals who has a post-World Cup autobiography about to hit the shelves but it is his decision to accept a lucrative payment from the News of the World for a three-part serialisation of his life story, rather than the lack of euphoria for football tales in this country following the team's display in Germany, that has truly rebounded on the Liverpool captain.

A headline of "I want United to die" was a rather distasteful opening to part two of his tale, leading to a series of arguments between the player, his agent and the newspaper before an apology piece alongside the third instalment last weekend.

It was an opportunity not to be missed for the Mancunian comedian who found himself confronting Gerrard and his international colleagues at the city centre club this week.

"It was a really good night," insisted Gerrard. "One of the guys up there was a Man U fan so you can guess who he picked on first. He was right after me but I handled it quite well. Then a Scouser got up and a few of the Man U boys got a bit too. It was enjoyable. When we got on the bus, everyone was laughing. The team spirit was there straight away within a couple of hours. That was the idea."

The United supporters among the England crowd this Saturday are unlikely to react the same way, although it will be 22 October, when Liverpool travel to face Sir Alex Ferguson's side at the same venue that their true feelings will be revealed to a midfielder who also slaughtered Cristiano Ronaldo for his part in Wayne Rooney's sending-off at the World Cup.

Gerrard admits: "I'm not too sure if I will be booed and I'm not really bothered. I have got to focus on the job and make sure my performance is right. I'm not used to getting a good welcome at Old Trafford anyway. I would like the Man United fans to really understand my views though. The headlines in the two serialisations were bang out of order, way over the top. I have a fantastic respect for Manchester United. But when I cross the white line against them, I am desperate to win. I will do anything in my powers to win. That's what I was trying to say."

Gerrard is not prepared to distance himself from every opinion serialised from his autobiography, however. The belief that Sven Goran Eriksson's squad saved their finest performances at the World Cup for their briefings with the media, rather than on the playing fields of Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Stuttgart, holds firm with the Liverpool captain. With Andorra awaiting, and a convincing England victory expected this Saturday, the 26-year-old admits the club atmosphere that McClaren is so keen to build around his international squad must also contain the ruthlessness and quality so evidently displayed in the opening 45 minutes against Greece.

"There's no use talking the talk," he explains. "We have got to become a good team before we can believe we can win one of these big tournaments. No matter how much we win, we have to kill teams off, be lethal, be really ruthless. If we are winning three or four at half-time, we have got to make sure we perform in the second half, send a message out to other teams that we mean business."

Not that Gerrard is prepared to predict a landslide in England's opening European Championship qualifier. "Games are only easy afterwards," he added.

"I've got to sit here and show Andorra respect. I'm an honest lad. This team, with the players we have and the way we played against Greece, should beat Andorra quite comfortably. But it's important before the game to show respect. It would be really immature of me to sit here and say we're going to win by a certain scoreline."

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