Five years is a long time to be away from the Champions League for Liverpool's fans. It's been equally as long and difficult a time for the players who have been at the club since they were last in it in 2009, none more so amongst them than Steven Gerrard, who at times must have thought he would end his career without ever playing in the competition again.
"There has almost been a jealousy and an envy that we weren’t involved," said the Liverpool captain, who will start tonight against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. "Watching the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in it when we were finishing outside the top four was tough. I’ve been craving it. I’m just glad it’s finally here. It’s reward for the hard work last season."
Though it's unlikely Gerrard will be started in every match he's available for this season, there's little doubt the 34-year-old will be the one who leads Liverpool out onto the pitch tonight. And while he admits Liverpool won't be favourites to win the entire tournament, Gerrard insists that he and his teammates aren't just in it to make up the numbers.
"We understand we are not one of the favourites," he said. "There are some big hitters that people will be tipping to win it, but the message from me, as captain of this team, is that we are not making up the numbers. No way. We have got such a big advantage over two legs, with Anfield, that other teams haven't got. You come to Anfield, you're getting a hard 90 minutes."
It sounds good. It sounds inspiring. Now, with wait finally over—or at the very least a few hours from finally being over—comes the time to go out and put proof to it. For both Gerrard and all the fans, Liverpool are back in the Champions League, and with that comes a chance to prove it really is where they belong to be.
"Everyone is looking forward to hearing that music," Gerrard added. "We need to enjoy it but we’re not in it to make the numbers up. We want to do as well as we can."