Steven Gerrard has revealed he was asked to help former club Liverpool in their attempts to sign Toni Kroos and Willian prior to their respective moves to Real Madrid and Chelsea.
The 35-year-old LA Galaxy midfielder says he was often asked to sound out potential transfer targets, with the Reds believing his global standing in the game would help their cause in the transfer market.
“I had an unofficial role at the club, trying to persuade some great players to join Liverpool,” the ex-Anfield captain wrote in his autobiography, which is being serialised in The Daily Mail.
“It was the same ritual every summer. The club would let me know which long-shot target they had in mind and then ask me to contact him. They thought that a request to consider moving to Liverpool would have more impact coming from me.
“In 2013, the latest player in our sights was Willian, the Brazilian midfielder. I followed the usual routine when approaching a star player we wanted to sign. Instead of calling him directly I always sent a text. It seemed more respectful and allowed the player to read my message at a time when it suited him best. A cold call felt wrong.
“I slipped into the groove with Willian. I said hello and hoped he didn’t mind me contacting him directly. I stressed how much I admired him as a player and then, having mentioned that I knew Liverpool were speaking to his agent, I used the standard line: ‘If you need to chat or ask any questions I’m available at any time.’
“It was the opening move in a familiar game. The reply came in and the same old conversation started. Willian thanked me and he said the usual, along the lines of, ‘I’d love to play with you, Steven, blah-blah-blah, but there are other clubs who play in the Champions League I need to talk to as well.’ I knew Spurs and Chelsea were also very keen on Willian. So I answered him and said, of course, I understood. But I then went in with my sales pitch. ‘I think Liverpool would be a great move for you. The fans are amazing, the history is there and we’re building a good team. You could do something great here – and we’d love to have you.’
“I meant it, too, because the club only asked for my help if it was with a player I rated. But I always tried to persuade with honesty and respect and never mentioned anything about the player’s financial situation or the contract he could expect from Liverpool. The next text from Willian was so obvious I could have written it for him even before I read it. He again said that it would be great to play in the same team as me but ‘I’m not sure Liverpool can give me the Champions League’. He went to Chelsea.
“Our target in 2014 was ridiculously optimistic. Brendan asked me to take a crack at trying to talk Toni Kroos into signing for Liverpool. He smiled when I said we’d be p*****g into the wind with this one. We both admired Kroos immensely. I knew Real Madrid were gearing up to make Bayern Munich an offer and so I felt a bit awkward when I texted Kroos. The German was on his way to winning the World Cup with his country and Real were the champions of Europe. But God loves a trier, and so I gave it a whirl.
“Some of the best footballers in the world can also be the most respectful. Kroos didn’t make me feel like I was a total idiot. But, of course, he would soon sign for Real Madrid. We had a nice little exchange of texts and I said well done and good luck.”
Gerrard also spoke about some of the players who did go on to join Liverpool and gave a damning assessment of former Senegal international El Hadji Diouf.
“Of the bad ones, I don’t really want to waste time thinking about El Hadji Diouf but it’s worth highlighting his wasted seasons at Liverpool as an example of how it can all go wrong,” he said.
“Gerard Houllier, a very good manager and a usually wise judge of character, signed Diouf in the summer of 2002. Gerard bought Diouf for £10m from Lens – solely on the recommendation of his former assistant, Patrice Bergues, who had coached Diouf there.
“I understood why Gerard rushed through the signing, but he did not really know Diouf as a person. He was one of three new signings which were meant to turn Liverpool into Premier League champions.
“We had finished as runners-up to Manchester United the season before and a combination of Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou was supposed to drive us to the title. It was probably the biggest waste of £18m in Liverpool’s history.
“We finished the season in fifth place and Diouf had sealed his place at the top of the list of Liverpool signings I liked least. It seemed to me that Diouf had no real interest in football and that he cared nothing about Liverpool. For example, the way he spat a huge globule of gunky phlegm at a Celtic fan in a UEFA Cup match at Parkhead in March 2003 summed up his contemptuous and spiteful demeanour.
“A few people have since asked me if I saw any comparison between Diouf and Mario Balotelli – and I’ve always said no. I’ve got respect for Balotelli; I’ve got none for Diouf. It seemed to me as if football got in the way of his social life.”