Gerrard praises Houllier for acting as 'father figure'

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Sometime over the next few weeks, whether it's in the Solplay Hotel in Lisbon, England's base for Euro 2004, at home or on holiday, Steven Gerrard expects a call asking him whether he approves of Liverpool's new manager. Such is the sway he now holds at the club that he will be consulted on the decision.

Sometime over the next few weeks, whether it's in the Solplay Hotel in Lisbon, England's base for Euro 2004, at home or on holiday, Steven Gerrard expects a call asking him whether he approves of Liverpool's new manager. Such is the sway he now holds at the club that he will be consulted on the decision.

"I'm sure the chairman and Rick Parry [the chief executive] will want to know the team's views and feelings," Gerrard, who was awarded the captaincy during this season, says. "My mobile is on for them to call me when the time is right."

His mobile was busy on Monday as he held a long conversation with Gérard Houllier in the hours after the Frenchman's six-year tenure at Anfield came to an end. "It typified the kind of person he is that he never really spoke about himself," Gerrard, 24 this Sunday, recalls at England's pre-tournament training camp in Sardinia. "He just went on about me, told me to keep doing what I have been doing.

"He was being a father figure to me again, just as he has been for six years. I thanked him for all the things he has done for me. I wished him all the luck."

Gerrard describes the sacking of his mentor as "unfair", saying he has carried the can for underperforming players. But in the hard world of football he realises that a change was probably due even if it meant the departure of the man who plucked him, as a spindly teenager, from Liverpool's academy and threw him into the first team.

"We both have to move on now," Gerrard says. "I was really disappointed to hear the news. But you also have to look at it from the club's point of view." And that includes the undisputed reality that Liverpool finished a distant fourth in the Premiership. Last season's "disaster" of fifth may have been avoided but "it hurts finishing fourth. I suppose it will hurt finishing second. Everyone knows how desperate I am to win the League. The last few seasons have been very frustrating to myself personally and for the whole club." It hurts most, with a shake of the head, to be "30 points behind Arsenal".

Gerrard hedges over whom he wants as manager. "The next three months for Liverpool are going to be really crucial, as important as they have ever been: the appointment of the new manager and the quality of the players he brings in," he says.

Liverpool fans will not want to hear it but he is involved in mutual admiration with Manchester United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has spoken of his desire to sign the midfielder. "I was flattered, very surprised," says Gerrard, "because he is the best manager around. Has been for the last 10 years." Not that he felt it was an invitation to head off to Old Trafford.

His future, he assures, is at Anfield, although he warns that the appointment of a new manager is "a massive decision". He signed an improved contract earlier this year but wants more ambition and three big signings. "A manager can only improve a team a certain amount," he says. "We need good players to improve on the results over the last few seasons. We need one in each department."

So far Liverpool have overshadowed his preparations for a tournament in which his captain, David Beckham, has tipped "Stevie G" (as he is known), to star. Injury deprived him of the last World Cup, in which his dynamism was sorely missed.

He has matured since then. There are fewer reckless tackles, fewer showy, possession-yielding passes. "I'm flying, the form is good. I'm happy off the pitch, everything is perfect. I have had a good season. Things have gone well for me personally," he says.

First up, of course, is the challenge of the French. Though on the left of a midfield diamond, Gerrard expects to be in the thick of it. "They are all top-class midfielders," he says. "But I am sure [Patrick] Vieira is saying the same thing about our midfield." It should be some clash.

Comments