'Steven has told me what happened,' says Benitez

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The Independent Football

The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, publicly expressed his full support for Steven Gerrard for the first time yesterday in the wake of the midfielder being charged with assault and affray following an incident in a bar in Southport earlier this week. The 28-year-old could face jail if convicted after being accused of assaulting a businessman and part-time DJ, Marcus McGee, who was injured during a fight at the Lounge Inn.

The Liverpool captain will attend North Sefton magistrates' court in Southport on 23 January but has been given the full backing of his club, with Benitez the latest to speak out.

The Spaniard, who returned to Liverpool's Melwood training centre yesterday for the first time since undergoing surgery on a kidney stone problem a fortnight ago, said: "Steven is our captain and a key player for us, but more than this, I know him as a nice person. I sat down with him this morning and had a very good talk about the situation and I was also able to speak at length with our club lawyer.

"Steven explained to me what had happened and I told him he has my full support and backing, along with everyone else at the football club. He's trained with the other lads this morning after a couple of days off for the squad and is keen now to focus solely on his football.

"We've worked very hard to get into the position we're in going through to the new year and all of us are determined to keep that progress going. We'll do whatever we can to support Steven in the weeks ahead, but we're now concentrating on our preparation for the FA Cup game at Preston this weekend."

The Professional Footballers' Association has also offered its help to the England midfielder. "We have a watching brief on this and have offered any help we can," said the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor. "I was concerned when I heard about the case as I have known Steven Gerrard a long time. I don't know the full details but as the players' union we would want to be supportive of him."

Gerrard returned to training at Melwood yesterday with little fanfare. He was greeted by a few fans who turned out despite the freezing temperatures to see him drive in. He has so far remained silent about the controversy and his wife Alex Curran, 26, said on Tuesday night that they would not be commenting.

Gerrard was charged with two other men following a fight at the Merseyside bar in the early hours of Monday. The father of two was celebrating his team's win over Newcastle when trouble began. He was arrested and interviewed by detectives, who later charged the England international with assault and affray.

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