rapturous reception | 

Stevie G no longer feels the weight of the world as he returns to Anfield as Aston Villa boss

Steven Gerrard is returning to Anfield as Aston Villa manger this Saturday. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Steven Gerrard is returning to Anfield as Aston Villa manger this Saturday. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Tony Evans© Independent.co.uk

Steven Gerrard is guaranteed a rapturous reception from the Kop when he brings his Aston Villa side to Anfield tomorrow.

Gerrard is one of the towering figures in the club’s history. The sentimental narrative suggests that his management journey ends with a glorious return to Merseyside.

After all, Jurgen Klopp is planning a year off when his contract expires in two-and-a-half years’ time. At this stage that is a pipe dream. It would take a remarkable performance at the Midlands club for Gerrard to impress Fenway Sports Group (FSG) before the German departs.

The American owners never quite ‘got’ the Gerrard phenomenon. They arrived in 2010 when the midfielder had passed his breathtaking best. FSG’s main obsession during their first half-decade at the club was how they could fill the void Gerrard would leave.

They were looking for a ready-made replacement and did not initially understand that he was beyond compare.

How badly did they get it wrong?

Rodgers had one eye on a post-Gerrard side when he played the ageing icon in a deep midfield role.

The Northern Irishman did not anticipate that the experiment would be a success. It was – and that was a tribute to Gerrard’s ability, rather than Rodgers’ tactical acumen.

When the Gerrard left for the Los Angeles Galaxy six years ago, there was a strong feeling that he was manoeuvred through the exit door. When he came back and coached at the academy it was fairly obvious that his career progression lay elsewhere.

Few people around Anfield saw Gerrard as a natural manager. When he was a teenager and asked to give a self-assessment by his coaches, he noted a tendency to “worry about certain things.”

A phrase that keeps cropping up from people who have worked closely with him is “he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

That is not a good attribute for managers. So far, though, Gerrard has confounded the doubters.

As a player, Gerrard inspired with his deeds more than his words. Jamie Carragher was a more natural, vocal leader.

Gerrard appeared very insular and sometimes self-centred.

In the early 2000s a section of the crowd were not enamoured of the youthful midfielder, labelling him ‘Stevie Me.’ The antipathy was forgotten in the second half of the decade, but only after he was twice close to moving to Chelsea.

The signature game of his career was the comeback from three goals down to AC Milan at half-time to draw 3-3 in the Champions League final and win after penalties on a mind-blowing evening in the Ataturk stadium.

Six weeks later he handed in a transfer request and seemed set for Stamford Bridge. Just before the point of no return, Gerrard found he could not leave Anfield, and suffered an emotional response akin to a minor breakdown.

More than the wild night in Istanbul, this was his defining moment.

Much nonsense has been spoken about the circumstances around the decision, including surreal suggestions that Gerrard was threatened by criminal elements, but all the pressure was internal.

When the moment came, he did not want to break the umbilical cord that entwined family, club and city. He was unable to win the title with Liverpool and his 2014 slip against – ironically – Chelsea was the turning point in the Premier League race.

Yet for all the songs mocking that moment, the blame for the team’s unbalanced shape is down to Rodgers. Midfielders are entitled to expect centre-backs to be ready to stop the resulting danger.

The love for Gerrard around Anfield is sincere. His difficult times are now largely airbrushed out of history . His indelible mark of greatness is imprinted on the club.

There will be no nostalgia for Gerrard. He has more than paid his dues to the Kop.

He is ambitious but no longer needs to carry his city’s weight of expectation. That release gives him a freedom that he never had during his playing career.

It is very unlikely that he is on a path to manage Liverpool, but the improbable cannot be dismissed when it involves a man who has made the impossible happen.

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