‘Kids think it’s all about Cruyff turns’ - Gerrard on Coaching Mentality
It was not simply what Steven Gerrard said but, rather, the manner in which he said it. The question, centring on whether he had discerned a flimsier side to academy football over his first few months as a coach, was still being delivered and yet he felt compelled to interrupt. In that instant, he offered up the first real insight into his managerial philosophy.
The Liverpool Under-18 players will not be encouraged to indulge in rainbow flicks, attempt nutmegs or bamboozle opponents with a blur of step-overs next season. Instead, it will be a case of rolling up their sleeves, working feverishly and delivering those match-defining moments through heart and graft, as forces of nature, much as Gerrard had in his own playing days.
“My teams will be physical,” he said, the emphasis in his voice leaving no room for any doubt. “I hate watching footballers, and football, when there is no physical side and you don’t compete.”
Gerrard will take charge of the junior age group in his own right in the summer, the pressure of being responsible for careers more than results something he is keen to embrace, but he has already made his presence felt during 12 weeks shadowing more established coaches at the Kirkby facility.
During last month’s clash with the Manchester City Under-18 side, it was Gerrard who delivered a rousing half-time team-talk, the sort to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. Liverpool’s youngsters, imbued with confidence, duly inflicted a first league defeat in 28 months on their rivals.
He had consciously sought to inject a little more oomph into their performance and will continue to do so.
“How do you coach it? 50-50s!” said Gerrard laughing. “No, I think it is important that you channel it in the right way. As a player I got many, many tackles wrong and went over the top a few times and I had to come and apologise.
A lot of kids that play the games think they have to do ten lollipops or Cruyff turns to look good or stand out
“That is not something I want to put into kids, or young players, at all, but you have to prepare them for the top level and the top level is physical and demanding and it is not just about tackles and competing.
“It is about trying to prepare them for the last five or ten minutes of games when it is hard, and your legs are burning and your heart is burning, and it is not a nice place to be in as a player. But you have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that.
“There is a showboating mentality through academies. A lot of kids that play the games think they have to do ten lollipops or Cruyff turns to look good or stand out.
“I don’t know [where it comes from] – [maybe] computer games. There are a lot of skilful players in the game that young players try and emulate and model their game on other players like a [Cristiano] Ronaldo or that type of player. Whereas you have to look at yourself and say, ‘What have I got? What are my strengths? How can I improve my weaknesses and become a player in my own right?’
“We all love a bit of skill and talent, I love all that, but the other side of the game is huge. It’s massive.
“I like streetwise footballers. I think all the top players they come from the street that type of player. The kids in our academy are coming into an unbelievable place to work, they are getting boss food, they are getting picked up and the full-time lads get a lot more money now than we got we first started.
“There is a case where they get a little bit too much, too soon and they sort of get into that comfort zone of working in a lovely place and then it is a big shock for them when they have to move on or get released. So that is what you have to drive into the players that while they are here you have to make sacrifices and give it your best, don’t get too comfortable, because the hard work starts when you get out the academy.”
Gerrard, who is expecting the birth of his fourth child and will turn 37 next month, speaks from experience. He has been back at Anfield since March when he bucked the trend among his contemporaries and opted to start over at football’s coalface, albeit one he knows well from his own stellar career.
He could have played on, or sat permanently on the pundits’ couch, but there is a curiosity that lies within. An itch that needed to be scratched, having seen Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benítez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers make decisions and wondered what he would have done in their position. There is also an ambition to help Liverpool that remains undimmed.
It was Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, who told Gerrard he needed to align himself with a team and accept responsibility rather than float between age groups.
Academy director Alex Inglethorpe [along with Steve Heighway] mentors him and, in return, Gerrard asked for one thing.
“He’s been first class and an open book,” said Gerrard, whose role will see Neil Critchley promoted from the under-18 side to the under-23 side, where he will assisted by Mike Garrity.
“The deal with Alex was, ‘If you’re going to mentor me be honest and straight with me. If you see something I am doing wrong or you want me to change something then tell me because if you don’t I’ll never learn anything.’”
What has he mentioned?
“[Positive] Body language on the side in coaching sessions,” said Gerrard. “He talked to me about my coaching voice and he wants it to be the same as it was when I was a player, when I was captain. He is very good.”
This is typical Gerrard: as open about how he needs to improve as the adjustments he will seek to make in others.
Of course I want to win and the kids want to win as well but it can’t be the be-all and end-all at that age
Klopp and Inglethorpe both believe he boasts the attributes to be an outstanding coach and Gerrard’s eye for a player seems sharp. After all, he tipped Trent Alexander-Arnold, whom he coached while undertaking his Uefa B licence, for stardom two years ago.
He has already put together his staff. Tommy Culshaw, currently the under-15 coach, will be his assistant. Jordan Milsom, the rehab fitness coach for the first team who Gerrard forged a close bond with during his playing career, will join them.
Gerrard knows every defeat will be viewed by some as a slight on his capabilities. He is aware his character will be tested by having to pick teams and drop players, hand out ear-bashings.
“None of that worries me or scares me. If it is my fault we get beat that’s fine. It’s about the players,” he continued. “I feel confident I can do a good job and I am really looking forward to it. I am not scared nervous – I am excited nervous.
“Every manager and coach I have spoken to has said I will make loads of mistakes, but your first job is better to be away from the cameras. You still get that little bit of exposure with the under-18 side – LFC TV, interviews with the local paper. It is a great age and a good idea to start there.
“I’ve been through that process from the age of eight. I’ve had the injuries, I’ve had the highs and lows and that will help me moving forward. I’ll treat players how I expect to be treated myself.
“The key with this age group is development. Of course I want to win and the kids want to win as well but it can’t be the be-all and end-all at that age. It is about their long-term development, trying to prepare them for their own careers, but once the game starts …”
Alberto Moreno to Marca: “Gerrard is a true Captain. He fights for the team with all he’s got and he always puts Liverpool ahead of himself. […] For someone like me, who’s just getting started in football, it’s a privilege to play with a footballer like him.” Also, Uncle Jamie doesn’t even go here anymore, but he’s the shit! Javi, hold this up…
George Harrison: “One time our friend Bernie came out from Liverpool to visit us [in Hamburg]. One day we were in a club and Bernie walked in and said, ‘I’ve just had a wank off this great-looking bird in the lav.’ We all said, 'That’s not a bird, Bernie!’”
Paul McCartney: “We set Bernie up. There was a club called the Roxy we all knew about. There were some cracking-looking birds there; they had deepish voices and they’d call you 'my little schnoodel poodel’, which was like 'little sweetie’. We didn’t realise at first, but after being there a few weeks someone put us straight - they were all guys. There were a few who fancied us because we were good-looking young boys. And so Bernie came out and he was a Liverpool kid: 'Eh, all right lads - whoa, look at her, she’s great!’ We all knew the score by then and we said, 'Yeah, I’ve had her, she’s fantastic.’ The next day he came up and said, 'Ooh, I put me hand down there and she’s got a f***in’ knob.’ We all collapsed in a heap.”
I kind of want to see a Kuro au where Sebastian is human. Imagine teenage Vincent taking in this little scraggly waif off the streets of Liverpool. And this kid speaks with a low-class accent so jumbled and thick that Tanaka has to basically re-teach him how to talk.
They cut his hair and clean him up and stick him in a little waistcoat. Sebastian the kitchenboy, so short he can’t reach the cabinets. Imagine him sneaking himself food from the Phantomhive kitchen, spying on Vincent and his pals in the drawing room, getting yelled at by mini Frances, and following Tanaka like a sulky puppy.
And when he tries to hide a bunch of kittens, Vincent finds out and laughs and lets him keeps them in the garden.
Imagine Vincent giving little Sebastian a cookbook as a gift because Tanaka’s teaching him to read. Imagine Sebastian finally making it to footman and being so nervous he can’t hold a champagne tray right.
Imagine how long it’d take for that little orphan to learn to speak with a prim and proper accent, to stand straight, to stop stealing from the kitchen, to start acting like a servant worthy of Vincent Phantomhive.
Sebastian the teenage footman worshiping the ground Tanaka walks on. Sebastian feeling self-conscious when Vincent marries Rachel and there’s a lady in the house.
Imagine Sebastian carrying baby Ciel on his back when he’s dusting the furniture. And when Vincent dies, he can’t even look at a cat without thinking about the man that was everything to him.
And when Tanaka passes the head butler title to him, it takes everything for these two men not to cry.
“I’ve said he is the best. The kind of player every team needs, and I meant it. Some think he was born with it, a birthright forged by the sharp hand of destiny - I think otherwise. This man’s greatness isn’t inherited; it is paid for, night after night, shot after shot. With power coursing through him like a seismic wave, his right foot drops like a thousand hammers. A force of nature. A powerhouse who long ago discovered his gift in a place he now calls home. As a boy he wasn’t much to look at, just another kid from Liverpool dreaming of Barnes, Nicol and Dalglish. A native son, yes, but nothing special. And in the shadow of Liverpool’s powerhouse, another powerhouse was born. But it’s more than just ability or destiny. On the ultimate stage, you can’t force other men to follow you to the ends of the earth. Sure he has more power behind his shot than a runaway train. But very few players wear the band of the captain. Very few players are leaders of men. After all, there was no miracle at Istanbul, there was just a man inspiring other men to victory. Every team needs a powerhouse, a man with whom you’ll never walk alone.” Zinedine Zidane