Gerrard: 'This last year has been the most difficult since I was 18'

Ahead of today's big game with Chelsea, Steven Gerrard opens up on the turmoil at Anfield and how he hopes that the storm has now been walked through
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The Independent Football

The morning after the night of Steven Gerrard's match-winning, 15-minute hat-trick for Liverpool against Napoli, Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti was lured into saying that he would love to manage him. Had the club's overtures for two successive summers in 2004 and 2005 been successful, that opportunity would have arisen by now, and this afternoon at Anfield he would have been turning out in blue, not red.

The first year, Gerrard admitted in his autobiography, he was "excited" by the possibility, and 12 months later he handed in a formal transfer request before withdrawing it at a time of emotional turmoil that had him "eating paracetemol like Smarties". Who knows, if Liverpool's current season had continued as it began on and off the pitch, another window of opportunity might have opened as he became more jealous than ever of Chelsea's trophy-winning habit.

Now, it seems, the moment has passed, that hat-trick coinciding with blessed relief at the departure of the unloved owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to leave Gerrard "a lot more happy and confident that things will be brighter moving forward".

He must have wondered up until a couple of weeks ago, when that famously furrowed brow was creasing more anxiously by the day. The one thing every England player craved after a summer in South Africa was the dawn of a sunnier season; what Gerrard and his best friend Jamie Carragher found back at Liverpool was another walk through a storm.

"On the back of a disappointing World Cup," he said, "you are hoping coming back to your club to [start] really positively and put the World Cup behind you. But it has been sort of continued from the World Cup, the disappointment. It has been a really tough start, a shock to a lot of people, me included. I think the last 12 months have been the most difficult since I was 18 and broke into the first team."

In Roy Hodgson, there was a new manager to become accustomed to after six years of Rafael Benitez. "Things change, he has his own tactics, his own way of playing, he brings his own new faces." Plus what Gerrard calls "all the turmoil of the owners". As he says: "Me and the lads have never used it as an excuse because that is the easy way out to blame finishing seventh last year and a bad start to the season, if you just say 'yeah, let's blame George and Tom'. That's certainly not the case. But Liverpool FC is not about headlines on front pages, certainly since I've supported the club it has always been about good things on back pages, and that's what we want to get back to."

He played his part for Friday morning's newspapers with that extraordinary intervention after being summoned at half-time with Liverpool 1-0 down against the Italians, and now hopes to be setting the agenda again after the latest meeting with a Chelsea side who he believes "have set the standards not just this season but since Roman [Abramovich] has come in and built his team. We are well aware of the challenge but I think they also know that coming to Anfield over the past five or six years, they have had big tests".

Nobody who saw, or heard, or felt the stands vibrating in the two triumphs over Jose Mourinho in the Champions' League will forget them, but as the panel (below) indicates, Chelsea still have a good record. They arrive today as Double-winners, having finished 23 points ahead of Liverpool last season, when they beat them twice. Even Ancelotti admits to surprise at having begun the first weekend of November with a five-point lead, not least because his experiences in Italy told him that life is always harder the season after winning the championship.

With that in mind he has revealed that he called his squad together before the start of the campaign and told them: "We have to do better, to improve." One way of doing so might have been to splash some more Abramovich cash but Chelsea wanted to move to a new stage of development, so the manager contented himself with buying only Ramires from Benfica and swapping Joe Cole for Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun.

"[Buying] was not the way to improve," he said on Friday. "Sometimes you need to improve as a team, not individually. Put ability and skills together to build a shape and win. To put together a lot of new players is [one of] the most difficult things to do." As his compatriot Roberto Mancini – and Hodgson – are discovering.

As for Gerrard, Ancelotti was keen to clarify that, for all his admiration of the player, "I'm sure he'll stay at Liverpool all his career and I'd like that because he's a very important player for the club". Gerrard said: "I love it here. I don't think 'sacrifice' is the right word. Playing for Liverpool and being captain, I wouldn't call that a sacrifice, I would call that living a dream. Of course there have been opportunities in the past to move on, Chelsea and other times as well, but I love this club, I want to stay and be successful because when that day comes, I know it will mean an awful lot more to me."

Reds v Blues in Abramovich era

Chelsea 13, Liverpool 8. 7 draws


PL Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool


CL Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool

CL Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea

PL Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool


CL Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool

CL Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool

LC Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool

LC Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea


CL Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea

CL Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool

PL Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool

CS Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea


FA Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool

CL Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool

PL Liverpool 1-4 Chelsea

CL Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea


CL Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea

CL Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool

LC Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool

PL Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

PL Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool


PL Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool

PL Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea

Key: PL = Premier League, CL = Champions' League, FA = FA Cup, LC = League Cup, CS = Community Shield

Research: Steve Tongue