Steven Gerrard: Chelsea turned my head because I was frustrated at Liverpool
Four years on, Gerrard is convinced he made the right move, irrespective of whether Liverpool achieve the improbable by overtaking Manchester United to win the League this season. Successful or not, that is not the main point. Gerrard is satisfied that his beloved team are heading in the right direction in closing the gap on those other heavyweights. In his book at least, Chelsea, United and Arsenal now face serious competition for several years to come. "The reason the whole Chelsea thing came up was down to frustration that we were so far away from the title race," Gerrard explained this week. "That's why their interest maybe turned my head slightly. But I look back now and I'm really pleased I decided to stay because I am part of a top team here that can be successful." A quick glance at the Premier League table tends to back up that argument. With only three weeks left, Rafael Benitez's side still stand a chance. Not a great one, admittedly, but it's more than enough to encourage their captain, brought up to follow only one team. "It would mean an awful lot more to be successful at Liverpool than it would at any other club," he insists. "Don't get me wrong, I might have won more medals somewhere else but if I was to win the League here, along with a few more cups, that would mean a lot more than winning seven or eight trophies somewhere else. I can share it with my family, with the Liverpool supporters because I've been one of them all my life." Yet such a strong allegiance inevitably creates heavy pressure. We are talking, after all, about a player unconditionally worshipped by every Kopite, right up there with Kenny Dalglish as an all-time hero. Dalglish, however, was not a local lad. As a result, it was surely impossible to feel the same sense of responsibility, especially as he didn't have to answer to a huge network of Liverpool fanatics, forever in the background, through good times and bad. Gerrard does. The pressure levels, therefore, must be incredibly high. "Yeah, every day I am captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world, where you are expected to win every single game," he confirms. "Sometimes that can get to you. Sometimes after a defeat, sitting on that bus, you feel as if you've got the world on your shoulders. Phone calls are coming in left, right and centre from family and friends who idolise Liverpool Football Club. If you haven't played well or feel slightly responsible for the result it can get on top of you. "On the other hand, if you get on that bus and you've played well, scored a goal, maybe won a cup final and lifted a trophy above your head, then you're on top of the world. I've had those experiences playing in this team and I wouldn't change them for the world. The pressure is well worth it for moments like that." Significantly, however, those moments arrived before Fernando Torres, and thus before Liverpool started profiting from a spectacular partnership. At times this season, most notably at Old Trafford in Liverpool's groundbreaking 4-1 victory in March, the Gerrard-Torres axis has proved irresistible. More than anything, it has made Liverpool look like serious contenders. Gerrard sees similarities with a famous old team-mate, who returns to Anfield on Sunday with struggling Newcastle. "You can go back to my days playing with Michael Owen. It's very similar. I know Fernando's movements, his pace and his strengths. The way he is, he makes my job an awful lot easier. He deserves credit for being one of the best players in the world and the manager does, too, for spotting that and putting us together." Unfortunately for Newcastle, this lethal double act should be reunited, now that Gerrard's sore groin, which kept him out of the last four games, has healed. What a relief for the red marauder, who, I can confirm, is not the calmest of souls when not involved. Watching the recent 4-4 thriller against Arsenal together in the Sky Sports studio, Gerrard was banging the glass, screaming for fouls. In other words, generally being himself – a rabid Liverpool fan. That's why he can't quite bring himself to hope Manchester United overcome Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final, even though it might help Liverpool's cause. "It's a difficult one because obviously I want them to be as busy as possible but I don't really want to be saying I want to see them in a European Cup Final! "But I think the next two league games are crucial for us, in maybe getting another chance, because Man U have tough league games either side of their second leg. They've got to play Middlesbrough Saturday lunchtime, which might mean Sir Alex Ferguson makes a few changes. And then, after the second leg at the Emirates, I think they've got the derby against City. If they can come through those two games then it's basically all over, but if they make any kind of slip up it does give us hope." Hope for a side Gerrard rates as the best he's ever played in at Liverpool. "I think we've got consistent performers throughout the team; world-class players in certain areas and also a lot more players stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility. There's a belief in the squad now when it comes to playing the big teams. A few years ago we might try and nick a 1-0 or grind out a draw. We've got the ability now to match those teams and win. "People talk about the spine of this team and when you look at it – at people like Pepe Reina, Carra, Xabi and me – we've played together for about four years now. We know each other's games inside out. The manager, meanwhile, is trying to strengthen other areas of the side. We're very close to having a top team. Very close." That's all Gerrard ever wanted when Chelsea came calling. And if this improvement leads to an overdue title win, the long wait will feel more than worthwhile.
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