Written By Jacobs Dunga
The Liverpool legend was sat in front of RSL cameras as he answered questions concerning his team and the league.
Steven Gerrard four months ago was announced as the coach of Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq.
The Englishman was without a job after following his Rangers success with an average return at Aston Villa.
He was then sounded out by the board of the Dammam based club to which he accepted to take over at the club.
Just like many others who have moved to the league in the last five months, the former Three Lions captain cited Cristiano Ronaldo as the inspiration behind his decision.
“The arrival of ‘The GOAT’ as we call him, Cristiano [Ronaldo], in January [was] a huge signing. He still had a lot of football to offer,” said Gerrard, with a beaming smile as he sat in front of the Roshn Saudi League cameras.
“So, from afar, for six months, I was looking in at Ronaldo’s results, at the league, watching results and highlights. I think from that moment, the league around the world had become a popular talking point for everyone. After Ronaldo’s arrival, even more big-name signings, talents and skillsets were joining the league.
“At the time it coincided with me being out of the game and looking for my next opportunity, so I was fascinated from afar looking in, and when my agents brought a couple of opportunities from the gulf area at the time, I was fascinated to explore them.”
Gerrrd revealed he was “fascinated” by the proposal from the club as he found the board “passionate” and realistic.
“The Ettifaq proposal and opportunity was the most exciting for me because I’ve signed up to a club where the board are very passionate. They understand where the club are, they understand it’s something that’s going to need building, and it’s going to take time. That’s the reason why I was very interested to analyse this one, because in my job you need time, especially when a club has finished seventh in the league and so many points behind the top four, that’s not an easy fix; it’s not something you fix in a week, a month, or six months. It’s a project to build on the pitch, which is obviously the priority, but also a lot of things needed to change around it to give the first team the support it needs.”
Al Ettifaq are currently in the same position where they finished last season and a whopping thirteen points behind table toppers Al Hilal but Gerrard is unfazed as he believes more in the longterm project.
Owing to the fact of not being one of the PIF backed clubs, Al Nawakhda did have a flamboyant summer in their rights.
The green and red club brought in Europe proven stars, some of whom have won it all in European club football.
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Speaking about some of his signings over the summer, Gerrard analyzed how the almost impossible operations ended up being actualized.
“I think when you’re the coach, the manager, you want players going into games that can be an extended version of the staff. People, who can really help on-pitch coaching; where the team needs to be in terms of distances, to make on-field decisions.
“Myself and Jordan [Henderson] we have that trust. We played together and he’s a fantastic player still, a fantastic human being. For us, to execute that signing was key and very important and I think a lot of the other signings we made came on the back of Jordan agreeing to come here. I think he wanted to still play, I think that was the key.
“He was at Liverpool at the time, he’s had a fantastic career, he’s achieved everything at that club, he’s been a fantastic servant to Liverpool Football Club, but I think in the previous months, maybe him not being a regular starter in the team, when you get to that age, I’ve been there myself under Brendan Rodgers when, you’re the captain, you play all the games, then all of a sudden you’re on the bench or you’re not getting as many minutes as you’d like, and that’s when you analyse and think about the different challenges, and when we knew it was a possibility, I wanted to be aggressive and wanted that to be my first signing, because for me it was a no-brainer.
“Still a fantastic player, he’s a leader, an on-pitch coach. His standards on how he lives his daily life on and off the pitch is good for our young players to see, watch and learn. Jordan understands the size of the project, that it’s not a quick fix. He wants to be part of the journey and building it with us, but he was a very important signing at a key time.”
On Gini Wijnaldum, “Gini [Wijnaldum] recently hasn’t played as much football as he would have liked. He had an injury where he broke his leg, and his last couple of experiences haven’t brought him football happiness, so he was looking to play regular football, he wanted to smile again, to feel an important part of the team and we could give him that platform.”
On striker Moussa Dembele who has since been out injured, “I watched Moussa Dembele for many years up in Scotland when he played for Celtic and competed against him, so I’ve seen him live and up close a lot of times. He’s a goalscorer, he scores important goals. He’s a box player, he gives you profile, he gives you strength, structure and I think it’s important to have a focal point in your team as your forward and Moussa gives us that.”
The Englishman reckons bringing in those players was the right decision for the club as they perfectly fit the ambition.
“Bringing the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Dembele and Jack Hendry, it was important they were the right characters. The right people to also support us and give us a good core strength in the dressing room.”
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