LONDON – Brendan Rodgers has warned Liverpoolâ€™s owners that money will have to be spent on established internationals if the club is to keep progressing following Steven Gerrardâ€™s departure â€“ and has denied forcing his captain out of the club.
Gerrardâ€™s decision to move to the United States at the end of the season for what he called â€œan incredible opportunity to try something differentâ€ will deprive Liverpool of its traditional home-grown core, with Jamie Carragher having retired in 2013. With the loss of Luis SuÃ¡rez last summer, it means the first team is short on top-level experience too. Rodgers prides himself on promoting young talent but accepts that it is unrealistic to compete with top clubs solely by producing players from within.
â€œThe model at this football club is clear, we want to take young players and develop them into world-class ones, but that can be a long and a difficult process,â€ the Liverpool manager said. â€œThe owners know that, and they also know that not every player can be a developer if you are going to keep progressing. A large part of our squad will always be young players, but if you want to take those steps forward at times you have to look to bring in some ready-made players.â€
Carragher has criticised his old club for not doing enough to keep hold of Gerrard, perhaps by offering him a coaching position, but Rodgers denied that was ever a possibility. Using the word â€œturmoilâ€ to describe his captainâ€™s state of mind over the past few weeks, Rodgers rejected claims that Gerrard was pushed out of the club against his wishes.
â€œIâ€™ve had plenty of conversations with Steven this season and heâ€™s never told me he felt unhappy,â€ Rodgers said. â€œWe wanted to keep him at the club, heâ€™s been a brilliant captain for me and we offered him a deal, but he wanted the chance to experience something different. Our communication is very open so I was aware what he was thinking and I also knew the turmoil he was in because of his unique situation. You see other players stay at one club all their careers but not too many who support Liverpool and still live where they come from, virtually five minutes round the corner.â€
Gerrard admitted that his â€œemotional, rawâ€ decision had largely been prompted by the realisation that he would no longer be an automatic starter. â€œThere was more than one moment that made me come to this decision, but I think the key conversation or moment was with the manager when he sat me down not so long ago and said it was time to manage my games for me and for the team,â€ Gerrard told the clubâ€™s website.
â€œIâ€™m bright enough to realise it is the right thing for everyone, but when youâ€™ve been a starter and a mainstay in the team for such a long time, it was a very difficult conversation to have. I accept it and Iâ€™ll continue to give everything Iâ€™ve got, whether Iâ€™m starting, coming off the bench or whatever, but that was the key conversation.
â€œI had an idea it was going to come at some time â€“ Iâ€™m a human, not a robot. Iâ€™m not 24. I wish I was 24, I wish Iâ€™d met Brendan when I was 24 because Iâ€™d be sitting here talking about a lot of titles that weâ€™d won together. The reality is, Brendan came into this club when I was 32 years of age and itâ€™s a shame that relationship didnâ€™t start 10 years ago.
â€œI had an idea the conversation was going to come at some time, but it was still a painful one to have.â€
Gerrard said the chance to start a new life in America was â€œa great opportunity for my family and myselfâ€, but said no deal with an MLS club was in place. â€œIâ€™m not over the line with any team just yet. Iâ€™m close and as soon as I know, Iâ€™ll make the announcement, Iâ€™ll do the bits and bobs that I need to do.â€
Rodgers said he felt Gerrard was right to stay focused on extending his playing career overseas, and explained why there was no offer of an Anfield coaching position. â€œThat did not form part of our conversations because he hasnâ€™t got his badges yet and Steven isnâ€™t the type who would go into coaching blind,â€ he said. â€œAt the moment he still wants to play, and coaching and management is not something you can just click your fingers and walk into. It takes two or three years to get your eye in, itâ€™s a pressure situation if you havenâ€™t been accustomed to it, and it is not something that always comes naturally or instantly.
â€œA footballer like Steven has only known the elite level for well over a decade. If you become a coach or a manager you are working with a different type of player, not everyone can reach the elite level and you need to make an adjustment. I am sure Steven would put in the hard work and commitment should he ever make that decision, because thatâ€™s the kind of guy he is, but it is not something that ought to be rushed into.
â€œHis focus is very much on the present, he believes he can play on beyond this season, and there will be plenty of years ahead of him to go into coaching. Time will tell but I donâ€™t see any reason why he couldnâ€™t become a top manager.â€
Gerrardâ€™s decision means his career, not just his Liverpool years, will come to an end without a league champions medal in England, though Rodgers was quick to pay tribute to his role in taking the club so agonisingly close last season.
â€œEveryone references the slip in the Chelsea game but you play 38 games to win the league and we came up just short over the season,â€ he said.
â€œSteven captained the team on an incredible run last year and a big part of our title challenge was down to him. His performances were monumental for us in the second part of last season, the key goals, the calmness, the composure.
â€œHe gave us the opportunity to come so close to winning the league. He has been an iconic figure at this club and always will be. Over time there will be an opportunity for him to come back here for sure. If I were still Liverpool manager I would welcome him back.â€
Gerrard said his short-term goal was now to win a domestic cup trophy before his Anfield career comes to an end. â€œWeâ€™ve still got a chance of finishing in the top four and thatâ€™s the most important thing for the club, for obvious reasons,â€ he said. â€œBut from a selfish point of view, itâ€™s always a trophy and itâ€™s always medals, for me.
â€œThatâ€™s what people remember and thatâ€™s what the club is all about. Itâ€™s about success and history. The day you make your debut for this club, the pressure and the responsibility is on your shoulders to keep delivering trophies to add to that wonderful history. Iâ€™ve lived with that for so long and Iâ€™ll live with it for another six months.
â€œIâ€™m really proud of what Iâ€™ve done here and hopefully I can write a few more chapters with the team from now to the end. But the last game and the last couple of training sessions are going to be torture, because itâ€™s so tough to say goodbye. Hopefully itâ€™s more of a â€˜see you soonâ€™.â€ – The Guardian