It could be rightly said that no one was surprised when, shortly after announcing his retirement from football, Steven Gerrard was offered the position of U18-19 manager for the Liverpool Academy. After taking a much deserved holiday following the conclusion of last year’s MLS season with the LA Galaxy, the former captain was chomping at the bit to get back to work.
That work meant preparing his lads for a small tournament in Switzerland hosted by FC Aesch. The competition included matches against SV Hamburg, FC Basel, Fulham, and Juventus, and the younger Reds ended with a third place spot after drawing against Hamburg and Basel.
“It’s a test physically, it’s a test mentally and we need to see what these lads are like when the pressure is on, when they are tired, and when they are asked to perform when they are out of their comfort zone,” Gerrard told the club website, when asked about the benefits of the tournament.
“When you play at the highest level the most testing time is always in the last 30 minutes of games and we ask the lads: ‘Can you produce quality as a player when you are tired, when your body wants to give up and when you want to quit?’”
Gerrard has already spoken of his intention to ready players as much as possible to fight for a first team position and impress big boss Jürgen Klopp, and was clear that this competition during pre-season was a good way to assess who will take on that challenge.
“You learn an awful lot about them, not just as footballers on the ball, but what they are like off the ball, what they are like around hotels, how they cope when you ask them to play minutes when they are tired,” he continued. “They get asked a lot of questions over two days and the majority of them have done really well.”
The lads lost to Fulham in the semi-final, earning them a chance at the third place play-off spot, and Gerrard urged his lads to use that defeat in the future. They did go on to win against Juventus to seal their third place finish, but there is still much to be learned in defeat.
“I thought in the first 45 minutes we showed them too much respect, but in the second 45 I thought we matched them all over the park and we probably edged the second half,” he said of the loss. “The lesson to learn from that game is you can't wait 45 minutes to go and match a team physically and mentally, so I think we lost that game in the first half.
“In the final game against Juventus we had to use our squad players and share the minutes out to give some of the players a game who haven't played much over these couple of days.
“There was a lot of positives to take out of that game and it was a nice way to finish the tournament with a win, but we were disappointed with the Fulham result.”