LIVERPOOL — The second you step foot in Liverpool’s Kirkby academy, there is a glaring reminder of Steven Gerrard’s greatest achievement as captain of his boyhood club.
As you move through the sliding doors into reception at the youth facility, a replica of the European Cup stands alone inside a glass case. In its backdrop is the enlarged image of a 24-year-old Gerrard, surrounded by red confetti and his 2004-05 Liverpool teammates, lifting the trophy in Istanbul.
This location, Kirkby — which will soon be the base of the first team — is where Gerrard now calls work after returning in February 2016.
He is now nearly half a year into his position as manager of Liverpool’s Under-18s side, and for all he achieved during his illustrious playing career, even the management side of the sport has been an eye-opening experience for one of the greatest footballers of his generation.
“I’ve aged about two years in six months,” he said with a wince. “As a player, I could switch off because on the day off, when the game was done, I could switch off and do things to take my mind off the game. That is very, very difficult as a coach. That has been the main difference.
“When you are the manager of the youth team, the next day after a game you are thinking: ‘What went well, what didn’t go well, what individuals do I need to work on this week, who do I need to praise, who do I need to speak to, who’s been naughty at school?’ So there is a lot more to it than you actually think when you are a player. I have more respect for coaches and managers now even though as a player.
“I always respected the ones that I worked with, but I didn’t realise how much was involved in their roles until I have tried it myself.”
Gerrard’s supreme dedication to his new job has been noticed by his colleagues inside the workplace, and his intense workload has been somewhat self-imposed in the attempt to earn the trust and buy-in of his squad.
Initially, his players — who will finish 2017 top of the Premier League for their age group — were in awe, viewing their new boss as Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s greatest ever player, instead of Steven Gerrard, the rookie coach.
“If you would have seen them this morning, then they’re probably out of it now,” the 37-year-old said with a smirk. “I think they’re getting very comfortable now and realising I’m serious as a coach.
“The first thing I had to show them, in a way, was that my work ethic was right. I have to be here on a daily basis and put the hours in. They’re probably sick of the sight of me by now. “
However, the taxation that management brings on one’s livelihood has not deterred the former Liverpool and England captain from potentially pursuing a long career in it.
“It is not scaring me or putting me off,” he said. “The next couple of years will definitely prepare me wherever I end up. I know that the further that I go up, there is more scrutiny, more attention, more opinions, more criticism, more praise. I get all that. But, for me, it was important to get a taste of it and experience it away from the cameras and away from the spotlight and, first and foremost, experience all these things before you go into the madness.
“That was one of the main reasons why I decided to take [this job], so I could make mistakes without getting judged in every single newspaper and every social media site. The time will come for that when I am ready for it. I know I’m not going to be U18s coach for years and years — that’s for sure. I do want to progress, but there’s certainly no time on that progression. I’m not itching for the next role already.
“I want to be a coach, I want to improve and I want to coach at the top level. I suppose how successful you are will make them decisions for you. For example, I could get a job, a first-team job in this country and get sacked after four or five games. It might put me off for the rest of my life.
“I might take my first job and win a league and that might set me up for my next journey of 10 or 20 years. I can’t predict the future.”
The idea that Gerrard is the perfect mentor for young footballers of today may bear some truth, but the notion that he will let his stellar, 19-year playing career do the coaching for him could not be more misguided.
As such, Gerrard will “never ever” show footage of his playing days to his players, instead preferring to view the work of Liverpool’s first team or others around the game.
“I don’t think it’s right to say: ‘Look at this’ and I’m running around. I don’t think that’s the right way to do. I think they’ve probably seen it,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, if there’s something blatantly obvious that happened to me — good or bad — and I thought it’d benefit them, then I’m not going to hide it from them. But I just don’t think it’s right to be saying: ‘Look what I done and look what we did.’ It’s about what’s happening tomorrow, not yesterday.”
Gerrard, who says he is regular dialogue with Jurgen Klopp, claims coaching has filled “part” of the gap vacated when he hung up his boots. But the itch to play still lingers.
He takes part in the staff match at the academy on Tuesday morning, as well as offering to make up the numbers in seven-a-side games during his own sessions.
“That’s just my love of the game,” he said. “It’s not me trying to show them who I was or what I’ve done.”
Now on the coaching ladder at Liverpool, Gerrard is, in theory, on course to go right to the top at the Merseyside club. But he is all too aware that, similar to his career as a player, his managerial pathway may not follow its intended route.
“In a year’s time, I might have three opportunities and three of them might not be here. Then it will be time to think,” he said. “I can’t sit here and say to you: ‘Oh, no, I only want to work for Liverpool Football Club blah, blah, blah.’ In an ideal, perfect world everyone knows what I want, but right now it’s not worth thinking about that.”
Glenn is ESPN FC’s Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.