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The Big Interview: Steven Gerrard

Gerrard

Steven Gerrard walks into the Liverpool training complex at Melwood with more than just an interview on his mind. Heading into the last two games of the season, he’s challenging to win his first Premier League title and once the domestic campaign is out of the way there’s the small matter of leading England at Brazil 2014.

But there’s no sign of any pressure. Relaxed and happy to look ahead to what could be the defining couple of months of his career, the England captain is taking it in his stride. Gerrard has been there and done it all and as the excitement builds, he’s determined to make his third World Cup the one to remember…

This will be your World Cup hat-trick, a huge achievement for any player. What has it taken to stay at the top of your profession for so long?

I think it’s just realising the chance I’ve got and the position I’m  in and I want to make the most of it till the end. Every single day you have to set certain standards and you can’t fall below them because you’ve got players ready to step into your shoes both at club and international level. When I meet up with England there’s a lot of young talent in the squad, they’re desperate for my place in the team and I don’t want to give it up too easily. And also, being around the England set up for so long, I don’t want it to just fizzle out. I want to get as many memories and experiences as I can and hopefully I can come away from the World Cup with my head held high after a really positive tournament, rather than coming away with the frustration of going out in the quarter final or whatever.

As a football fan growing up, what are your biggest World Cup memories?

Italia 90 was the first World Cup I took an interest in. For me that was the Gascoigne World Cup, with the tears and his amazing performances. He was a big hero of mine at the time and I wanted to follow in his footsteps so that World Cup gave me a big interest in watching England and dreaming of playing for England. The World Cup is on a pedestal. Obviously it only comes around once every four years and that makes it extra special but back then, at 10 years of age, my dream was just to play for England in general.

Gerrard EnglandIs this World Cup even more special because it’s in Brazil?

I think it is more special. When you think about World Cups and the special players who have contributed to the tournaments, Brazil always spring to mind. If there was a World Cup outside of England you could pick to go to it probably would be Brazil, so I’m really looking forward to it and it’ll be a great experience but the message is we’re not going over there to enjoy Brazil and its surroundings – we’re going out there to try and do the best we can on the pitch.

Traditionally, the press is always on the England team’s back until the run-up to a tournament and then it’s all ‘we can win it!’ This time around the hype seems more measured. Does that help the team, not having a huge burden of expectation?

Going into previous World Cups when you’re getting labelled the ‘Golden Generation’ and putting you up there with the favourites to win the tournament, it brings unnecessary pressure on the players. I think this time around there’s a bit of realism about. Although we’ve qualified and done really well and we are moving in the right direction, I think people realise that this tournament is really hard and there are 12 or so other top sides that are competing for it as well, teams that are full of world class players. We go there with a chance like everyone else but I think people are more realistic this time.

What’s it like being in a training camp during tournaments,  is it just a case of killing time waiting for the matches to come around or are you able to relax and actually enjoy being away with England?

The days are quite long – you’re obviously training in the morning and then you’ve got a lot of time to kill. But credit to the FA, they always make sure there are things to do around the hotel. These days everyone has iPads and movies and the internet and stuff like that, so compared to when I used to go away with England 12 years ago it’s a lot easier to fill your spare time. The manager lets you have nine holes of golf from time to time and if you’re in a country where there are places to go to see certain things as a life experience, you can get out of the hotel as well. The players have certainly got no excuses with boredom and time to kill, you’ve just got to manage it.

“I’m probably speaking on behalf of every professional player when I say it’s a top organisation. Throughout my career I’ve had to lean on the PFA many, many times, whether that be for advice or help with certain things. They’ve always been there, always make you feel welcome and I don’t think the game would be what it is without the PFA.”

Steven Gerrard, England and Liverpool FC Captain

Is the hardest part being away from the family?

It is for me. What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s better to go to these tournaments without your family. Some players are different and prefer to have their family there, but for me I see it as a bit of a distraction – no disrespect to Alex and the kids but after a long training session or a tough game I don’t want to be getting dragged from pillar to post having to entertain three kids. I want to get my rest, my recovery and get ready for the next game. I feel as if my own form has been better when I’ve  been out there on my own, you’ve only got to sacrifice 6-8  weeks of your life and you’ve always got FaceTime and Skype  to stay in touch with the family.  

It’s a tough group for England: Italy are always strong in tournament football, Uruguay have got some great players and Costa Rica might surprise a lot of people. How do you see it?

Tough. Any of the teams are capable of getting out of that group if they play well on the day, but for us I think the key is going to be that first game against Italy. Every team at the World Cup is going to be looking at their first game and getting a positive result because the confidence and belief you get from that first result can carry you through. If we were to avoid defeat against Italy it would be a good result. Hopefully we can get that win – if we get the win then I’m very confident we can come out of the group. But a draw wouldn’t be a bad result because they’re a top side and one of the favourites for the tournament.

When you look around this England squad there seems to be a good balance of youth and experience with players hitting form and breaking through just at the right time. How do you think the team has evolved under Roy Hodgson?

I think what he’s done is he’s given players a bit of respect. He treats the players like adults and he’s created a great team spirit and camaraderie in the squad. It’s very relaxed and he gives the players the perfect platform to go and play well for him. Everyone knows he’s very tactically astute and very detailed in his own preparation for the games. If you add all that together you’ve got a good manager who’s tactically spot on and players who enjoy playing for him and being with England – I think it’s a good mix to have.

Rodgers and GerrardYou’re heading into the World Cup in great form for Liverpool and off the back of the club’s best league campaign of your career. What has been the key to the way Liverpool have pushed on this season?

You have to give huge credit to the manager. He came in, a young manager taking a huge job and to have the impact he’s had in such a short space of time is phenomenal really. I’m enjoying every minute working with him, he’s a top manager, a top bloke, I’m skipping into work enjoying training and I think every player’s the same. You can see it in our performances – everyone’s expressing themselves, playing with confidence and belief. He takes the fear away from you as a player, you’re not scared to make mistakes under him because you’re playing the exact way he wants you to play. His first six months was obviously everyone getting used to him but as soon as the message got across to the team I think we’ve carried it out really well over the last 18 months.

If Liverpool win the Premier League title will that be your greatest achievement?

Istanbul was almost 10 years ago now so you want a fresh achievement and something that would be just as big to go alongside it. I don’t want to disrespect that Champions League in 2005 because it was mega, it was huge, it was as big as it gets, but because we haven’t won the league for 24 years if we do manage to get over the line and bring it back it would be such a big achievement. For everyone connected to the club it would be massive.

Having had a successful season do you think that will give you more confidence heading into the World Cup?

I think it’ll certainly help. If Roy Hodgson picked four, five, six of the Liverpool players to go to the World Cup having had a great season, whether we win it or not he’s going to be picking players full of confidence and really hungry to go and achieve something with England. I think that’s the key to this Liverpool team, you’ve got a great mix of young lads and experienced lads who are hungry to do well and that’s the mix you need going into a World Cup – you need players who want to go there to be successful, not players who want to go there and just enjoy being there.

Liverpool legend, England skipper, over 100 caps – as a youngster did you ever imagine you’d get to that level?

Not at all. I mean, at 15, 16 years of age my thoughts were to try and break into the Liverpool team, get in and around the squad, get a couple of games and see if I was capable of coping at that level. It happened really quickly where I broke into the team and stayed there and when I realised I felt comfortable that’s when I started to think ‘can I go to the next level and play for England?’.But if you’d have asked me at 16 years of age I never would’ve dreamed of getting 100 caps and more.

What advice would you give to a young player starting out and looking to have a long career in the game?

I’ve always been open to taking advice from coaches and different players and trying to learn whenever I can. I remember my dad saying to me on the way to a Liverpool training session when I was probably nine years of age, ‘You get out of football and you get out of life what you put in’. If kids work hard and make the sacrifices and keep wanting to learn, listen to the right people and keep practising, they can achieve their dreams – that’s what happened to me. Just work as hard as you can on a daily basis and never give up.