Sportsmail speaks to those who know Gerrard best before his return

Steven Gerrard will be desperate for Liverpool to lose for the first time in his life on Saturday… Sportsmail speaks to Jurgen Klopp, Robbie Fowler and those who know him best ahead of his return to Anfield with Aston Villa

  • Sportsmail spoke to those who know Steven Gerrard best before Anfield return
  • Jurgen Klopp knows what it’s like to visit your beloved club as an opposing coach
  • Robbie Fowler thinks Gerrard will not be affected by his reception from fans 
  • Former team medic Matt Konopinski insists nostalgia will not be an issue, either

For the first time in his life, Steven Gerrard will be desperate for Liverpool to lose on Saturday, as Sportsmail discovered when speaking to those who know him. 

Jurgen Klopp, who gave Gerrard his first job in coaching with the club’s academy, has no doubt the Liverpool great will be competitive against his beloved side.

Robbie Fowler thinks his former team-mate will be unaffected by the reception he gets at Anfield while doctor Matt Konopinski spoke of his professionalism and his respect for club staff.

Sportsmail spoke to those close to Steven Gerrard before his return to Anfield with Aston Villa

Jurgen Klopp (right) gave Gerrard his first coaching role with Liverpool’s youth academy

THE MANAGER

Jurgen Klopp has been in Gerrard’s shoes. As Borussia Dortmund boss, he returned to Mainz after 18 years there as a player and manager…

‘It’s strange, you pretty much like all the people you meet when you step into the stadium and that’s not normally the case. When you go somewhere it is easier to be very competitive.

‘I could handle it, Stevie will handle it. I’ve never heard a negative word about Steven since I was here. He’s a great guy and will come here and want to win the football game.

‘After I shake hands, we will both go full throttle and I remember when we scored for Dortmund at Mainz I forgot all about my story at Mainz and celebrated like a crazy devil. He is allowed to do that as well!

‘From the first second you think about the game until the last second. After you have played it, when you are at home, it just feels different.

THE FORMER TEAM-MATE

Robbie Fowler saw Gerrard’s first training session with Liverpool’s first team and was alongside as he developed into one of Europe’s best midfielders. He also had a poignant return to Anfield and knows what will be going through Gerrard’s mind…

‘The thing about Steven, from day one, was that he didn’t care. 

‘By that I mean reputations never bothered him — playing with older players, established first-teamers, never bothered him. He was there to play and nothing would ever get in his way.

Robbie Fowler says his old team-mate Gerrard will not be affected by the Anfield crowd

‘I know what type of character he is, so nothing he ever achieved came as a shock to me. When he used to do something miraculous in a game — my best memory is his equaliser against West Ham in the last minute of the 2006 FA Cup final — I almost expected it.

‘In the two spells I played with him, he took your breath away every day. He will get an unbelievable ovation but he won’t pay attention.

‘Steven loves Liverpool because this is his home, but he won’t see this as some audition — not a chance. He’s single-minded and the only thing he will be thinking about is three points for Villa. That’s how he’s always been.’

BEHIND THE SCENES

Matt Konopinski was in Liverpool’s medical team when Gerrard was in his pomp. Nostalgia, he insists, will not be an issue.

‘What stood out for me was his professionalism, his ability to lead by example. Steven wasn’t the most demonstrative person in the dressing room but he had this aura and he carried himself in a way that made everyone follow him.

‘I remember going with him one day when he had to have surgery on his shoulder. The operation was on a Sunday. 

‘After everything was done, I got home and he sent me a message thanking me for being with him and how he appreciated me giving up time with my family.

Gerrard bidding farewell to Anfield in his final game for Liverpool against Crystal Palace

‘In football, that sort of courtesy was actually remarkable. It summed him up. He knows how to speak to people, he understands situations. He respects people’s opinions and takes advice.

‘I understand the emotion of him returning but I think that emotion is bigger for supporters than it will be for him. He is Aston Villa manager now and I just don’t think he will be caught in externals.

‘Will he celebrate if Villa score? Of course he will — and so he should! He will want to show how his new career is going and demonstrate that to the football world.

Backroom staff spoke highly of Gerrard’s respect and regard for people around the club

THE PRESS BOX

Dominic King has been Sportsmail’s man on Merseyside for 11 years, with insight into what made the devotion Gerrard was afforded different from the rest…

‘What Steven could do with a football made him stand out but you need more than that to be a leader. The memory I have that highlights this best comes from January 1, 2015. Liverpool drew 2-2 with Leicester at home and it was the first time my eldest son Oliver, six at the time, had been to Anfield. 

As a surprise, I’d asked Steven if we could say hello afterwards. Waiting by the players’ tunnel, Oliver wondered what was happening until Steven appeared. He spent five minutes with him, asked what Father Christmas had brought him, and posed for a picture that remains on his wall.

‘Three hours later, it was announced Gerrard was leaving Liverpool. Even though he knew this seismic moment was arriving, he’d still found time to make a little boy’s dream come true.

‘On Saturday Steven will get an ovation like the one given to Kenny Dalglish when he returned as Blackburn manager in December 1992, but the only result the Kop wants is a home win. Steven wouldn’t expect it any other way.’




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