Gerrard stays for life after another U-turn

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The Independent Football

Incredulity spread from Anfield to the Bernabeu via Stamford Bridge yesterday morning when the England midfielder telephoned his adviser, Struan Marshall, to announce he could not sever ties with his boyhood club after all. Gerrard arrived at the decision just 12 hours after informing Liverpool's chief executive Rick Parry that he wanted to bring his 17-year association with the club to a close.

It followed an agonising night of soul-searching for the 25-year-old, who made emotional calls to friends and members of the Anfield hierarchy before resisting the chance to join Chelsea for a British record transfer fee for a second successive summer. Liverpool had begun planning for life without their inspirational captain when the saga took its latest, unexpected twist. Instead of digesting an expected £32m windfall, however, Parry and the chairman David Moores met Gerrard at the club's Melwood training ground yesterday afternoon to finalise a four-year contract worth £100,000 a week.

No get-out clauses exist in Gerrard's new deal, which will be officially announced tomorrow. This is an attempt by the midfielder to convince supporters he is committed to the club for life and has no intention of putting either himself or the club through another transfer ordeal next year.

There were apologies all around Anfield as Liverpool's European Cup-winning captain and Parry admitted that they had misread the other's intentions, with Gerrard disillusioned by the club's delay in presenting him with an extended contract.

The player feared Liverpool's hesitancy was a sign that his manager Rafael Benitez was prepared to sacrifice his prize asset in order to overhaul his first-team squad.

After being convinced otherwise, Gerrard explained: "The last five or six weeks were the hardest of my life because I wrongly believed the club didn't want me. I don't want to get into attaching blame to anyone.

"If I blame anyone, it's myself. I wanted my future sorted out as soon as possible after the Champions' League final and when that wasn't the case, the longer it went on, the more misunderstandings there were. There was confusion and doubt in my mind. I had discussions with the manager, but the reports of bust-ups are complete nonsense. Now I know how much the club wants me."

A relieved Parry, who announced the dramatic development after several telephone conversations with the club captain, added: "He has decided to stay with us because he realises how much the club genuinely means to him. Even when he said he was going, I don't think the language he used suggested he really wanted to go. Over the last 24 hours he has thought it through and he wants to stay.

"It's what we wanted all along. I have apologised to Stevie if I've misread his emotions. I guess after Istanbul I thought I knew where we were going but he clearly thought, for whatever reason, that the club was not as enthusiastic about keeping him as we might have been.

"There were one or two issues with the contract which he took to mean a lack of enthusiasm on our part, which it wasn't. He understands that now. We've had some emotional moments together, cleared everything up and I don't think this will happen again."

Gerrard's initial decision to leave Liverpool sparked an angry backlash on Merseyside, with some supporters burning his replicas of shirt outside Melwood. But Parry insisted: "I don't think he's staying because he was concerned about the negative reaction. I made the point on Monday to him to think of the fans in Istanbul and ask himself how he could leave that. Obviously, the last day or two hasn't been easy for him but this isn't a decision for negative reasons. He's found it complicated but deep down it was always a difficult decision for him to say he wanted to go."

Gerrard admitted he had instigated the decision to withdraw from contract talks on Sunday after growing frustrated at the lack of progress on a new deal, but he will report back for training today and is scheduled to play in Liverpool's first pre-season friendly at Wrexham tomorrow. "I just couldn't go through with it and leave this club," he said. "I never said I wanted to leave but I'd felt I was being backed into a corner.

"When I thought about it more, I just wanted to stay. I admitted I've made mistakes and the club has acknowledged they've made mistakes as well. But now we've sorted it out and I'm doing what I wanted to do all along, which is stay at Liverpool."

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