We are sitting in the Boulevard Lounge of the Beverly Wilshire when Megan Fox appears, turning heads as she strides towards her table. ‘Can’t be bad, can it? Sitting here having a Diet Coke in Los Angeles and Megan Fox walks in,’ says Steven Gerrard with a smile.
Miss Fox, cover girl for Rolling Stone magazine, Maxim and FHM with movie blockbuster Transformers among her credits, is as close to A-list as we get, but even in Los Angeles, four ladies from Huyton, Merseyside, only have eyes for another of Hollywood’s hierarchy.
They giggle their way through the obligatory snap for social media and it is a timely reminder of something Gerrard had already said. ‘See, I told you — you can’t get away from Liverpool. Wherever you are in the world. I told Luis Suarez that once when he was thinking of going to Arsenal. Of course, go to Barcelona and everyone will understand that, but Arsenal? There are Liverpool fans in London, you know, Luis.’
This swashbuckling commander of Anfield is now 35 and has left his Liverpool roots for a new adventure in America’s emerging league where he has played 624 minutes for LA Galaxy so far. But his heart is still in his old back yard.
Today, he is relaxed, fit and mostly anonymous (for now) carrying a trendy leather rucksack and dressed for the sunshine in tailored shorts that would not look out of place at a members-only golf club. ‘I get to travel to work wearing shorts every day which takes some getting used to,’ he says.
He is also, however, missing the midfield storms of the Barclays Premier League.
‘Yeah, I do miss it. I miss everything about it. When I switch on the TV and see the stadiums, with 50, 60, 70,000 people — the aggression, the intensity, the tension. I am jealous,’ admits Gerrard.
‘I miss the build-up, competing with better players, I miss being Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain and walking out in front of my people with that pressure and trying to get a result for them.
‘Yes, I felt like s*** some days because we lost. I would ask myself, “why are you putting yourself through this?” but the contrast is when you beat one of the top sides, the texts are flying in on your phone and you are on top of the world. I miss that.
‘As much I am enjoying it out here with a fresh challenge, I’d like nothing better than being 25 again and with 10 years ahead of me in the Premier League, playing for Liverpool, but I’ve had my time.’
Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, is among those who thought Gerrard could still be operating in the Premier League now. And though Liverpool offered Gerrard a contract, too, they failed to recognise their captain’s desire to move into management and his willingness to accept a part-time playing role.
‘Ability-wise, I could still play but physically I couldn’t play every game at my age,’ Gerrard admits. ‘I didn’t enjoy being sub last season. I didn’t enjoy not knowing if I would be in the XI or not.
‘I didn’t enjoy when Liverpool were in the Champions League, the idea that I might have to miss matches. I struggled to get my head around it.
‘Maybe that was selfish of me but I had gone a long time playing every single game. I might be contradicting myself here but what would have kept me at Liverpool into this season was the chance of shadowing Brendan Rodgers and his staff as well as playing. Those ideas were only mentioned to me after I had announced I was leaving.
‘I don’t know if I am going to be good enough to be a manager, or a No 1, No 2, No 3 or No 4.
‘Liverpool replaced coaches Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh in the summer, so they were looking for a new No 2, or No 3 or No 4. I would have been tailor-made to fill one of these roles, as well as making myself available as a squad player.
‘I could have been a good squad player, a good sub, as well as getting management experience that money can’t buy.’
Asked if he is resentful, Gerrard says: ‘I was surprised a role wasn’t mentioned when chief executive Ian Ayre sat down with my agent but maybe it might happen one day. I’d have stayed on as a squad player if I’d had the chance to learn more about management or coaching. I left with all the doors still open, but yes, I could still have been at Liverpool now.’
As Gerrard writes in his book, why couldn’t Liverpool have done for him what Manchester United did for Ryan Giggs?
Instead, he is Stateside settling into a Galaxy far, far away where experiences such as playing in Salt Lake’s altitude take some getting used to. ‘One lung-busting run and that was me finished. Maybe it’s my age,’ he smiles.
This week, his three daughters, Lilly-Ella, Lexie and Lourdes, returned to England to continue their schooling on Merseyside where the family home remains.
They will also attend a school when in America visiting their dad and he is aware that this is a challenging and new experience for all concerned. As his wife Alex took the girls back to Liverpool, the man of the house is still coming to terms with his new life.
He will fill some of the time promoting his gripping autobiography My Story that is to be serialised in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday sports pages, starting on Saturday. And, yes, he does talk about The Slip, explaining with a grimace: ‘It has its own name and its own chapter!’
His error against Chelsea in 2014, when Liverpool looked to be closing in on the title, ‘was a killer’. The ball ran under his foot and he fell, leaving Demba Ba to score. Liverpool lost the game, Manchester City won the title. There are still days when it troubles him, even 5,260 miles away and 502 days on.
‘It still flashes into my mind, so I couldn’t shy away from it in the book, even though I’d rather forget it,’ he says. ‘The books I’ve enjoyed are the ones when people have been real.
‘I’m telling people what happens backstage. People take their opinion of me based on what other people have said or written. But what happened after that slip? How did I deal with it? How have I learned to cope with it, to arrive here?’
Rodeo Drive, complete with its glamorous shops, stretches out in front of us. He can, of course, afford to buy his entire wardrobe there, despite taking a pay cut to join LA Galaxy, but advises: ‘You can do some damage there.’
Instead he wonders if I have found the Farmers Market where there ‘are some good deals’.
He turned down great riches on offer to follow Spanish passmaster Xavi to Qatar and is now among the poster veterans of Major League Soccer, along with Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Didier Drogba, David Villa and former Liverpool team-mate Robbie Keane.
With 769 caps between them, it is a retirement home for international kings. Off the pitch, he is slipping comfortably into the LA lifestyle.
‘Look, 99 out of 100 people here don’t know who I am. I can go to the beach, I can take the kids to a fairground, I can walk about and nobody is taking a picture of me being out,’ Gerrard says. ‘You say the word “suffocation” but I never complained about it (in Liverpool). I understood. They are passionate supporters, desperate for success. That was real.
‘They want their picture taken with you, they want a piece of you, they want to talk football with you. What’s wrong with that?
‘I loved the game, the travelling, the medals and representing Liverpool. I didn’t mind responsibility, the pressure of being the captain of one of the world’s biggest clubs.
‘I’m often asked, “Do players care? Does it hurt when you lose?” Yes, I’ve played with some players who might not have hurt, but I do.
‘There might be times when — your word — you feel “suffocated” but I was paid unbelievably well.
‘There were times when it was challenging, so being here, being incognito, that’s nice at 35 years of age. But I wouldn’t have wanted this at 25 or 26.
‘I wouldn’t have given up that position at Liverpool for anything. I know I had the chance. And I know I didn’t give it up.’ In conversation, Liverpool is still often ‘us’ or ‘we’ but he is working at saying ‘they’ for a new role as a BT pundit. ‘I have to say “they” but as if anyone on the planet will be in any doubt about where my loyalties lie! It will always be “us” to me.’
Loyalty is an important word to Gerrard. He uses it often when reflecting on a career that could have taken him to Munich or Milan; to Chelsea, Paris or Madrid and multiple times, in the direction of Jose Mourinho.
He still expects the Special One to have a big say in this Premier League title race. ‘Never write him off. I fancied them before the start. It’s not a disaster. They just need some tweaking. Get John Terry back at centre half, they will be fine.’
Terry is a player for whom Gerrard has huge respect.
And what about Liverpool this season?
‘Liverpool have got a fight on to make the top four. Until the West Ham game, I was pleased, they looked solid, but then…
‘The key for Liverpool is Daniel Sturridge. Can they get him fit and can he forge a partnership with Christian Benteke? Philippe Coutinho is a wonderful player but he needs people to finish his magical work. He’ll create chances and get into double figures, but the reason we finished second and punched above our weight was because we had Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. The team needs goals.’
In his book, Gerrard describes Premier League leaders Manchester City as a juggernaut. He said: ‘I know Jordan Henderson and James Milner, honest lads, will be sitting there thinking now, “We’ve got our work cut out here”.
‘City won the first four games without a blemish, they spend £52million on the hottest property in Germany (Kevin De Bruyne). It makes them that little bit stronger, the little bit better, that little bit further ahead of Liverpool.’
There is something normal about Gerrard. He is not aloof or arrogant and maybe that is why he carried such a weight on his shoulders at Liverpool. He was doing it for his people and clearly misses being in the thick of it.
‘But at 35, this is right for me now, playing for the Galaxy,’ he responds. ‘The standard? It’s not the Premier League, but they are fit, professional and I am still getting a buzz. This league will only lift off when they relax the rules on signing players, but they also have to guard against the damage that it could do their national team.
‘I love top Premier League foreign players and they have improved me, but the balance is wrong in England. It has damaged our national team.’
He speaks warmly of Roy Hodgson but when asked who should be England’s next manager, he answers with only the slightest pause: ‘Obviously when Roy’s had his time… Brendan Rodgers.’
Maybe it’s my surprised reaction but he continues quickly: ‘The way he plays would suit England. He would improve the possession football you need at international level. His man management is brilliant. At tournaments, in the heat, it is absolute torture and we need to keep the ball better.’
He can’t do both jobs, surely? is the obvious follow-up question. There is no mischief to detect in his follow-up answer.
‘No, but you asked me the question and I gave you my answer. If you want someone who would get the team playing and the players would enjoy working with, it would be Brendan.
‘Look, I can’t find any mistakes with Roy. He’s always been very good to me and is the right man to be the England manager now. I hope he has a very good European Championship and stays as long as possible but will be judged on what happens in the finals — he knows that himself.
‘If it doesn’t go well I’m sure there will be changes, maybe then or whenever Roy’s time’s over Brendan can be in the mix — but who am I?’
Six major championships, 114 England caps and the captain who emerged with credit from the pain of regular international under-achievement is the answer.
David Beckham, who trod this path before, returned to Europe during the MLS close-season to play for AC Milan and Gerrard has already had two offers himself.
He will not name the clubs but adds that he has ‘earned the right for a cold beer on Christmas Day with my family. Right now, the answer to your question is “no”, I won’t take up the loan offers but who knows what the future holds?’
You don’t have to be a Liverpool supporter to enjoy his book. You don’t have to be a Liverpool fan to have enjoyed his career, one that has been driven by tribalism and rivalries (four of his eight red cards have come in matches against United and Everton), with special feeling reserved for Manchester United, the dominant force during his Anfield years.
In Saturday’s serialisation he talks of the deep emotion he feels towards his rivals United and when we meet he admits it has affected his career greatly.
‘That feeling has helped me as a player to give more to Liverpool, to my team, my badge,’ he explains.
‘There have been times when I have overdone it and gone into those games with too much anger, but a lot of those games shaped me. I am passionate, I do love the game, I do play for the badge and for the club.
‘I want people to read this autobiography and see me as someone who loves the game, rather than what the game has given me. This is the nervous stage for me now. I want people to enjoy it. I can say to you today, man to man, I turned down millions and millions to leave Liverpool but I have no regrets.
‘In an ideal world, I wake up in the morning, I am 25, I’m Liverpool and England captain, we’ve just beaten West Ham and I’m preparing for the Euros, but you’ve got to let go. This book tells my story and I can look back with pride.’