By Dave Cottrell
Few players' return from injury has been anticipated with such fervour as that of Liverpool FC midfield player Steven Gerrard. He could not change the course of Saturday's Premiership game against Middlesbrough FC as the Reds lost 2-0, but fans know that his return heralds better times for the club.
The 24-year-old captain has recovered from a broken toe which cracked without an adversary in sight during a fixture at Old Trafford in September. Like Wayne Rooney at UEFA EURO 2004™, he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, requiring minor surgery to insert a screw into the bone.
"At the time I didn't know what I'd done," he said. "I just remember going to turn for the ball and I felt something really unusual. I actually thought one of the studs had come off my football boot. It was when I put weight on my foot that I realised I had done something bad because I wasn't able to run properly."
It's an injury that's easily exacerbated by premature comebacks, so after spending four weeks in an air cast - "it was just feet up at home and really boring" - Gerrard stepped up slowly, via cardiovascular work on an exercise bike and in the swimming pool, to ballwork on the training ground.
"I hate injuries more than anyone," he added. "It's so frustrating kicking every ball from the stands, and watching the Champions League on TV is difficult because I want to be part of it. But sulking wasn't going to help. Hopefully from now to May I'll be fine."
A boyhood fan of the club and product of its youth academy, Gerrard has been at Liverpool since he was nine. He is Liverpool’s invincible local hero, a kinetic force of nature dominating midfield, dashing into tackles and making rambunctious runs into enemy territory, bayed on by the crowd to the rapid-clack soundtrack of upturned seats.
Nurtured by former Liverpool coach Gérard Houllier, he won the UEFA Cup with the club in 2000/01, but had been linked with a move to Chelsea FC after Houllier was replaced by Rafael Benítez this summer.
The Spanish coach persuaded Gerrard to stay, to the delight of supporters, but could not prevent striker Michael Owen joining Real Madrid CF. "
I was devastated to see Michael go," admitted Gerrard. "I wanted Michael to stay and try to help us become a better side, but an opportunity arose that he couldn't turn down."
However, the midfield player has adapted well to life under Benítez. "I think he realises that I'm a decent player but that I can still get better, and I realise that myself," he said. "So now he's just trying to improve the little details in all parts of my game."
'Still in it'
Gerrard will need to be at his best this week as Liverpool take on AS Monaco FC at the Stade Louis II. However, Liverpool are well aware of their own potential. "We're still in it and confident that we can qualify," said Gerrard. "I don't think many teams underestimate us. It was great to win the UEFA Cup three years ago, it's a massive trophy with a great history but the Champions League is the ultimate."
This an abridged version of an article which appears in the latest issue of Champions magazine, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Click here to subscribe.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.