Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard at centre of Premier League title subplot, but says ‘my priority is Aston Villa’
- Legendary midfielder never won the league with his boyhood club – but now he could help them do it as manager of another team
- ‘We’ll give everything we’ve got to get points for Aston Villa. If that helps Liverpool, fantastic,’ says Gerrard ahead of Man City clash
Steven Gerrard’s phone has been red-hot ahead of the finale to the English Premier League and many of the calls and messages will likely have come from people connected to his former club.
One of the greatest midfielders in his generation, Gerrard never got to win the league for Liverpool in 17 years there as a player and team captain. It was the biggest regret in his career, denying him what he has called “the icing on the cake”.
On Sunday, though, he could help win the title for Liverpool – as a manager of another team.
Gerrard’s Aston Villa stand between Manchester City and another league title, their sixth in 11 seasons. All City need to do is win at their Etihad Stadium home.
Yet if Gerrard can inspire a win or even a draw for Villa, the title could then go to Liverpool – provided his boyhood club, the team he’ll forever hold dear to his heart, beat Wolverhampton in a match taking place simultaneously at Anfield.
It’s the dominant narrative heading into Sunday and Gerrard cannot deny it.
“I totally understand and respect the external noise and the questions that have been coming my way for some time,” he said. “They’re involved in a title race and I spent a lot of time there.”
So how does Gerrard assess the situation?
“We’ll go out at the weekend,” he said, “and give it everything we’ve got to try and get points for Aston Villa and our supporters.
“If that inevitably helps Liverpool, fantastic, but my priority is to try and get points for Aston Villa.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he hasn’t spoken to Gerrard about the game and will not be doing so before Sunday.
“Stevie will take it 100 per cent seriously, I am sure, without me calling him,” Klopp said. “I don’t have to. Probably the rest of the club did it already, but I didn’t.”
Klopp said helping Liverpool win the title would presumably be a motivating factor for Gerrard.
“I can only understand these situations by thinking of myself in that role,” Klopp said. “So if I would play a game that would help [his former clubs] Borussia Dortmund or Mainz, that would make for me an extra motivation.
“But I don’t play and Stevie doesn’t play. So that’s a shame. It’s more a shame that Stevie doesn’t play than I don’t play.”
Gerrard has taken the repeated questions about his role in Sunday’s league finale in good spirits but there was one aspect that irritated him.
Villa played Liverpool last week, losing 2-1 at home. The result kept alive the title hopes of the Reds, and there were suggestions that Gerrard would be happy to do his old club a favour.
“It is disappointing,” he said, “when people mention integrity and aim it towards me or Aston Villa or any of my players.”
Gerrard will not be the only member of Villa’s travelling contingent this weekend with links to Liverpool. Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings are former Liverpool players and they are likely to return to the team having been left out of Villa’s 1-1 draw with Burnley on Thursday.
The subplots do not end there.
In City’s team is Jack Grealish, who left Villa in the last off season as Britain’s first £100 million (US$139 million) player to join City in his quest for trophies. It’s his old club – his boyhood club, too – which could stop him.