Steven Gerrard: Theres a showboating mentality in academies. My teams will be physical


The former Liverpool captain talks about his new role as coach-and-four of the fraternities under-1 8s, why young players should not try to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo and why he turned down the MK Dons job

Steven Gerrard insists judgment should be reserved on his attributes as a coach-and-four until his tactical decisions, his leadership from the sidelines and his mistakes have been thoroughly examined. That will come next season as administrator of Liverpool Under-1 8s, where judgment on what must be has already been attained. There is a showboating mentality through academies, asserts Gerrard. My teams will be physical.

The first of what Gerrard hopes will be several managerial stairs at Liverpool was substantiated on Thursday with a fixed role with the under-1 8s. The current under1 8s administrator, Neil Critchley, will lead the under-2 3s next season, with Mike Garrity who has been in the post since Michael Beale moved to So Paulo in December becoming part of Critchleys backroom team. Both ought to have shadowed by the former Liverpool and England captain since he returned to the fraternity in February.

The academy director, Alex Inglethorpe, attained the appointed in consultation with Jrgen Klopp, who has been closely involved in Gerrards transition from star captain to coach-and-four of starry-eyed kids. Jrgens been the key behind all this, recognise the 36 -year-old, who will be assisted by the current under-1 3s coach-and-four, Tom Culshaw, and the rehab fitness coach-and-four Jordan Milsom. It was the Liverpool managers idea to commit Gerrard an initial floating role across all academy age groups and, impressed by the hours and the run put in, considers the fledgling coach-and-four ready for the next, more challenging step.

Gerrard explains: I spoke to Jrgen and we agreed after a few chats that the 18 s was the right age group because it still gives you a little bit of a spotlight with the coverage it gets but it is a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and grow and discover. Every manager and coach-and-four I have spoken to has said I will attain loadings of mistakes, and your first task is better to be away from the cameras. The other offers I get[ managing MK Dons ], “it wouldve been” learning on the job at the deep aim and I likely wasnt ready for those chores. I might have been but I didnt want to take any risks, especially when there is no timescale or programme of where I want to be in a certain time, so the 18 s attained sense.

It has been really good in so far. I have been shadowing five or six tutors at the academy and been mentored by Steve Heighway and Alex as well. I am still waiting to start in terms of being a No1 coach that contributes a squad. Shadowing is a bit different, I am more in the background. I havent had to make any big decisions, or any substitutes, formations or tactics yet.

Shadowing has not contained Gerrards influence exclusively, however. The former midfielder was immediately struck by the lack of physicality at academy level, a frequent lament from many Premier League managers while the Football Association strives to improve the technical abilities of English talent. In an under-1 8s fixture against Manchester City in March, he called for and received greater severity from the Liverpool players as City were beaten for the first time in 28 months. Gerrard demanded the same the following week against Manchester United old habits and rivalries die hard and the 2-2 describe demonstrated a ferocious encounter. Adam Lewis, a lifelong Liverpool fan who idolises Gerrard, was mailed off after 30 minutes for a dangerous tackle.

We work on 50 -5 0s, Gerrard jokes. As a musician I get many, many tackles wrong and went over the top a few days and I had to apologise. That is not something I want to put into young players at all but you have to prepare them for the top level and the top level is physical and demanding. It is not just about tackles and competing. It is about trying to prepare them for the last 5 or 10 minutes of games when it is hard and your legs are igniting and your nerve is igniting and it is not a nice place to be in as a musician. You have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that. I hate watching footballers and football when “they dont have” physical side and you dont compete.

Steven Gerrards first day as a Liverpool academy coach, on 1 February. Photograph: Andrew Powell/ Liverpool FC via Getty Images

There is a showboating mentality through academies. A lot of children think they have to do 10 lollipops or Cruyff turns to seem good or stand out. We all adoration a little bit of ability and flair but the other side of the game is huge. I have to try and prepare these players for careers in the game. Not all of them will play for Liverpools first team but I feel if I can help them to become involved in the other side of the game it will help their careers. Maybe it[ showboating] comes from computer game, I dont know. There are lots of skilful players that young players try and emulate likely too much instead of playing to their own strengths. They try and simulate their game on players like Ronaldo whereas you have to look at yourself and tell: What have I get? What are my strengths? How can I improve my imperfections and become a musician in my own right?

Gerrard, who expects to complete his Uefa A licence by the end of this season, continues: I like streetwise footballers. I reckon all the top players come from the street, that type of musician. The children in our academy are coming into an unbelievable place to project, they are getting boss food, they are getting picked up and the full-time fellows get a lot more money than we got when we started. There is a case that they get a bit too much too soon. They get into a solace zone of are present in a lovely place and then it is a big surprise for them when they have to move on or get liberated. Ive visualized a lot of players come out of the academy with huge reputations and go into the Melwood dressing room. Then it is sink or swimming and a lot of them sink.

The intensity of Liverpool youth fixtures is not all that has changed since Gerrard returned from LA Galaxy. He himself has had to tailor his coaching methods under the tutelage of the fraternities academy administrator. Gerrard explains: Alex has been first-class and Ive had a lot of feedback. Hes been honest and straight with me. He has spoken to me about my body language on the side in coaching conferences. He likewise talked to me about my coaching voice. He craves it to be the same as it was when I was a musician, when I was captain.

Unsurprisingly, Gerrard has found aspiring youngsters to be a bit shy in the presence of Liverpools commanding former captain. But once they know you are approachable they get comfortable very quickly, he says. We have to wait and see[ what his strengths are as a coach-and-four] but you have to be approachable. The best managers I worked with were all very approachable, honest and fair, and always gave me feedback whether it was positive or negative.

There is a danger, of course, that a coach-and-four of Gerrards status will be measured by the immediacy of results at under-1 8 level and not on musician development. He accepts it comes with, if not the job, then his decision to pursue a job in management when so many of his peers have retained away. None of that worries me or scares me, he says. If it is my fault we get beat thats fine. Its about the players and their development.

Id love to see a musician I coach make their first-team debut because it is a life-changer. Making your debut for a fraternity this size changed my life and Ill be pleased for that child and his family because it is an unbelievable thing to do. Making my debut here was one of the best days of my life. But they will have to fight for it because it is not easy.

Steven Gerrard has a lot to think about as he makes the transition from musician to manager. Photograph: Andrew Powell/ Liverpool FC via Getty Images

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