Gerrard: Owen should be a Red

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard gave an interview to today’s Sunday Times where he spoke about his own ideas on what would improve the Liverpool team that has just gone out of this season’s Champions League. Still Champions of Europe until May, Gerrard says that he genuinely believed they would overcome Benfica during the week. Everything seemed right for the Reds to produce another of the performances that earned them the title of European Champions: “Everybody connected with the club thought we’d go through. I definitely thought we would. The changing room before the game was buzzing, you could see all the boys were up for it, and we could hear the crowd were too. The idea was to get an early goal, and we created the chances to do it, but we couldn’t put the ball in the net.”

Gerrard hates tasting defeat. He was down about it as much as any other Red, but knows his responsibilities: “I went straight home and sulked. Driving home with a few friends, all we could talk about was the chances we’d had and the massive disappointment of going out. Being captain, I’ve got to lift my chin off the floor and try to help the boys get over it because there’s still two important things to play for: finishing second in the league, and the FA Cup.”

Gerrard feels the disappointment all the more because the fans were so up for it on a typical European night at Anfield. “They were superb, they deserve a trophy.”

The interviewer tries to get Gerrard to criticise the Liverpool forwards who are struggling to score this season, but Stevie won’t blame them personally: “Scoring is a team responsibility and I don’t want to sit here and criticise the forwards, but their confidence is low and the goals are not going in. Statistics don’t lie. I’m happy enough with my return, but from the team’s point of view it’s obviously a problem.”

Goals win games and Liverpool aren’t getting them. To Gerrard the
problem is fairly obvious: “Sometimes you lose games and can’t put your
finger on what’s going wrong, but in this case we know what the trouble
is, it’s there for everybody to see. I’ve got confidence in Peter
Crouch, but to get the best out of him, he needs to play alongside a
prolific scorer. Peter has never been prolific and I don’t think he’s
ever going to be. He’s a target man; you’ll only get maximum benefit
out of him if you play him alongside a prolific partner, and we haven’t
got one. We’re desperate for one. I’m not going to sit here and
disguise the fact that we need a poacher.”

Some people have taken the drought from the forward players as a cue to
criticise them all, but for Gerrard the signing of Crouch for just
short of £7million in the summer should have been accompanied by the
return of a former Reds star: “I know Michael Owen wanted to come here.
I’ve got a good enough relationship with him to know that. We speak
regularly and I know what Michael’s feelings were. He wanted to come
back and play for Liverpool. The fact that he’s not here now is down to
Liverpool not making it happen, rather than Michael not wanting to

Maybe Gerrard was paving the way to allow Owen to come back this summer
a little more easily. Liverpool were unwilling to pay £16million for
him to come back so soon after selling him for £8million. There’s no
doubt that Newcastle’s high bid – offset by money still owed from the
Jonathon Woodgate transfer – priced Owen much higher that Liverpool
would pay. Liverpool have hinted that had Owen waited long enough he’d
have got his move to Anfield, whereas Owen himself says that was too
much of a risk. The get-out clauses in Owen’s Newcastle contract mean
he could be back at Anfield in the summer for a fee more like the Reds
are prepared to pay. Gerrard is well aware that some Reds don’t want
Owen back. These Reds see Owen as letting the club down by not giving
Rafa a chance when he first arrived, and then letting them down again
when he didn’t sit back and wait for Real to accept Liverpool’s lower
bid. Most Reds supporters want Owen back, but the minority still need
to be convinced what difference Owen would make to the team. Gerrard
knows enough about the game to see that Owen would have been ideal
alongside Crouch in this Liverpool team.

Gerrard says: “It’s difficult for me to say what difference he might
have made the other night, but Michael Owen scores goals. Domestically,
in Europe and at international level, he has proved that. He’s a great
player. Someone asked me in the interviews after the game on Wednesday
if I’d like him back, which is a silly question. He’s a world-class
player and one I love playing with. Of course I’d love to have him
back. I was disappointed when he didn’t come, and so were the rest of
the lads, because we all knew he’d have improved us, but it was a
tricky situation. Michael was desperate to get away from Real quickly.
If he’d given it a bit more time, I think he would have been a
Liverpool player again.”

Gerrard knows that Owen was the first to show his hand in the game of
poker that took place over his future last summer, but also knows as
Owen’s friend what the rules are for Owen’s release clauses. Could he
be back at Anfield this summer? Gerrard hints at the possibility: “Who
knows what the future holds? We’ve got Mark Gonzales coming from Spain,
a tricky winger who plays on the left. Rafa has said he’s also after a
right-sided midfielder, and I’m sure, after what has been happening,
that he’s going to bring in a striker as well. He has said he needs the
money, which is right. That’s the way it is in football now. If you
want the best players, you’ve got to find top money. I don’t think it
will be a problem. The board will back Rafa because I know they’ve
every confidence in him.”

The perception outside of the Anfield boardroom is that Liverpool are
short of money, but in truth only those inside the boardroom really
know how things are at the club. Liverpool are looking for investment,
both for a new stadium and for the ability to keep strengthening the
squad. Liverpool fans struggle to get a ticket for Anfield, there is a
waiting list five years long for a season ticket – the extra revenue
Liverpool are missing out on in every game they play is hurting the
club. Manchester United’s capacity will soon be over 70,000 and today’s
opponents Arsenal will be at their new ground next season. A new
stadium for Liverpool is vital and deadlines are about to be reached
that would see Liverpool miss out on some funding. Without a new
stadium whoever is in charge potentially gets less money to spend on
players in the future, but Liverpool need money to rebuild now.

At a recent press conference Rafa Benítez spoke – off the record –
about how he needs a decent amount of money if he’s to take Liverpool
on a further step or two. He didn’t mention figures – they were added
by the press later – but he did make it clear he needs to be backed
this summer. With Real Madrid and Inter Milan both desperate to see if
they can poach Rafa the comments took on more weight and were taken by
the press as being an ultimatum from the Spaniard. As Gerrard says
though Rafa is not in any hurry to leave Anfield and will work with
whatever resources he is given. He wasn’t hinting that he’ll leave,
more that he’ll not be able to bring what’s expected from him if he
isn’t given what he needs. Gerrard says Rafa is staying: “There’s been
a lot of media speculation because of what’s going on at Real Madrid,
and I know Inter Milan are interested, but that’s only normal. He’s one
of the best coaches in the world, so there will be clubs chasing him,
but I’m confident he wants to stay here. He’s got a lot of belief in
this squad, and if the board back him, Rafa will bring more trophies
here. We finished fifth last season and we were really struggling. This
time we’re playing better football and feel we’re moving forward.
Finishing second is the immediate challenge. Manchester United are
slight favourites at the moment, but we’ll fight them all the way for

The fact is that without the Russian millions Chelsea would be out of
the picture in terms of league position right now. With that in mind it
shows how much progress Liverpool have made that they are fighting for
second place with the team that has won so many of the titles since
Liverpool last won the league. Despite the millions giving Chelsea an
unnatural advantage Gerrard still says they are not out of reach yet:
“I don’t think the gap is that big. When we play them, it’s not as if
they play amazing football and you feel they’re invincible. We always
feel they are beatable, but over a season they’ve got this consistency,
this will to win and incredible strength in depth. They’ve got
top-class players who can’t even get into their 16, so at the moment it
is very difficult to compete with them.”

Gerrard also put his side of the story forward about his own dalliances
with the club that have made themselves the most hated in Europe. He
says that he was nowhere near moving to them after the campaign carried
out by the press during Euro 2004 although that wasn’t the case twelve
months on: “The first time was largely media talk, although I do have
to admit their interest did turn my head. The second time I was very
close. I was having problems sorting out my contract here, and it
nearly happened.”

Gerrard was criticised by so many Reds over the near miss and some
still haven’t forgiven him. The majority have let him off for his crime
and with every on of his performances he seems to win the supporters
over more and more. As far as he’s concerned though the fans do
appreciate him, but he has to repay them on the field: “I remember a
guy burning a Gerrard shirt outside Anfield. I’m not sure if he was a
real Liverpool fan or if he’d been given a few quid by the press to do
it, but I’m strong enough to move on from things like that. I don’t
feel I owe the supporters anything extra because I got involved with
Chelsea. I owe them every time I play because they pay my wages and the
support they’ve given me since I made my debut at 19 has been
unbelievable. I’m not proud of how I made them feel when they thought I
was going, but we’re fine again now. It took the Chelsea thing to make
me realise how much I love this football club. I’ve no regrets. On the
contrary, I’m so glad I stayed and I want to be successful at
Liverpool, nowhere else.”

Stevie was asked if it was money that tempted him to move to the Blue
Devils: “Of course not. Before the Chelsea speculation started I was
okay for money. I don’t play football to get richer; I play to become
more successful. What turned my head was what was happening at Chelsea
at the time. You could see they were going to win trophies; it was as
simple as that. Now I’ve got confidence that I can do that here, and it
will mean more to me, winning them at Liverpool, than it would anywhere
else.” He’s still glad of the money he earns from the game though: “My
family never had much money, so I appreciate having it now and try to
make sure I use it right.”

Gerrard has had to play more games than he’s ever likely to play in a
single season this term, an improvement on how things were a couple of
years ago when he struggled to “repeat games” regularly. He’s desperate
now to play as much as possible and feels he’s almost been playing to
his maximum despite the extra games: “These days, whenever I go on the
pitch I’ve got a lot of energy, and I’m confident. I feel I can play
well in every game. I’ve been very consistent this season, playing near
to my maximum, but I’m still striving to get better.”

Gerrard also says his style of play has changed as his body and fitness
levels have changed: “When I broke on to the scene, because of the way
my body was developing I never had the strength or the energy to get
around the pitch, so I became more of a holding player. As I’ve got
stronger and my body has adjusted to the demands of playing at this
level, I’ve settled into what I feel is my best position, an attacking

And if he gets his way, he’ll be an attacking midfielder setting up chances for Michael Owen next season.