Steven Gerrard was waiting to address Liverpool’s Under 18s – the side he will manage next season - for the first time.
Coach Neil Critchley ushered him forward ahead of a fixture with Manchester City and what followed was the kind of emotional but informed speech that made Gerrard as a leader for club and country.
There were no niceties. No tentative, polite words of encouragement.
Gerrard demanded every first tackle be won and no minute pass without each youngster remembering the badge on the jersey.
He did not speak to the team like boys, but men, offering an authentic glimpse of the culture – the demand - of first team football. Bridging the gap between the Under 18s and first team is an area of player development that has caused most concern to English football.
“The room was so pumped up I felt like putting on a shirt and playing myself,” remarked another former player who was observing in the dressing room.
City’s Under 18s had not lost a league game for 28 months.
Liverpool won 2-0.
Gerrard offers a diplomatic ‘no comment’ when asked about the feisty nature of his inaugural lecture, but his vision of the game mirrors how he played. When he quips he will be encouraging plenty of ’50-50s’ in his coaching sessions, you sense it is only half in jest.
“Obviously I've done plenty of talks in front of a team as a player but when you are doing a team-talk or presentation to a team it is different so that was a good buzz doing my first one,” he said.
“You definitely get a buzz if the players deliver what you have asked for, whether that it is half-time or before the game.
“My teams will be physical, but I think it is important you channel it in the right way. As a player I got many tackles wrong and went over the top a few times and had to apologise. That is not something I want to put into kids or young players, but you have to prepare them for the top level which is physical and demanding and it is not just about tackles and competing. It is about trying to prepare for the last five or 10 minutes of games when it is hard and your legs are burning and your heart is burning and it is not a nice place to be in. You have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that.
“I hate watching footballers and football when there is no physical side and you don’t compete.
“There is a showboating mentality through academies. A lot of kids that play the games think they have to do 10 lollipops or Cruyff turns to look good or stand out.
“We all love a bit of skill and talent - I love all that - but the other side of the game is huge. It’s massive.”
As a player, Gerrard was often frustrated when those following him from Kirkby to Melwood lacked the edge he and his chief lieutenant Jamie Carragher possessed. Now he has the chance to make a difference.
“I've seen a lot of players who have come out of The Academy with huge reputations and go into the Melwood dressing room and then it is sink-or-swim and a lot of them sink. A lot of them are shocked with the step up to Melwood from The Academy,” he said.
“I like streetwise footballers. I think all the top players come from the street.
“The kids in our academy are coming into an unbelievable place to work, they are getting boss (great) food, they are getting picked up and the full-time lads get a lot more money now than we got when we first started. There is a case where they get a little bit too much, too soon and they sort of get into that comfort zone of working in a lovely place. Then it is a big shock for them when they have to move on or get released. What you have to drive into the players is that while they are here you have to make sacrifices and give it their best. Don’t get too comfortable because the hard work starts when you get out The Academy.
“There is a pathway there because we have a manager who will play them.”
Liverpool have now confirmed Gerrard’s elevation as full-time Under 18 manager from next season, their former captain opting for the extended route to senior management having rejected several offers – most notably from MK Dons – to plunge straight in. By September he will have acquired his UEFA ‘A’ coaching badge.
“I spoke to Jurgen and we agreed after a few chats that the 18s was the right age because it still gives you a bit of a spotlight with the coverage it gets, but you have a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and grow and learn,” said Gerrard.
“The other offers I got it would have been learning on the job in at the deep end and I probably wasn't ready. I might have been but I didn't want to take any risks, especially when there is no timescale or plan of where I want to be in a certain time so the 18s made sense.
“I have been shadowing five or six coaches at The Academy and mentored by Steve Heighway and Alex Inglethorpe as well. I have had licence to assist every coach in the games from the Under 14s up. I cannot really ask any more from the staff.
“The deal with Alex was if you're going to mentor me be honest and straight with me. If you see something I am doing wrong or you want me to change something then tell me because if you don't I'll never learn anything.
“He talked to me about my coaching voice and body language in coaching sessions. He wants it to be the same as it was when I was a player, when I was captain.
“I haven’t had to make any big decisions, or any substitutions, formations or tactics just yet. But I am really, really excited and looking forward to starting it next season.”
Gerrard’s sheer presence has an impact but it has been necessary to ensure that aura is put solely to positive use.
Before his first day in February, Inglethorpe wrote to parents to urge their youngsters to treat Gerrard like every other coach.
“When Steven is on site, please do not ask for photos or autographs because as used to attention he may be he is there to do a job,” wrote the Academy director.
Rather than be a distraction, Gerrard’s status is added motivation for those seeking to emulate him. His words resonate more.
“I hope so because I've been through that process from the age of eight,” said Gerrard.
“I've had the injuries, I've had the highs and lows and that will help me moving forward as a manager and coach. I'll treat players how I expect to be treated myself.
“They were a bit shy at first but once you start speaking to them as a group and start pulling them individually they know you are approachable. You tell them that you are there for them. It is all about them. Then they get comfortable around you very quickly.
“I will be approachable. You have got to be. I will try and take all the best bits of all the managers I have worked with and the best managers, the ones I enjoyed working for, were all very approachable, always very honest and fair with me, always giving me feedback whether it was positive or negative. If those managers were fair and honest with me I would always respect them.”
There is a sense of Gerrard starting again, retracing steps and surrounding himself with those he trusts most as he starts the next phase of his career.
“There are different types of nerves because when I made my debut down there they were nerves when you are scared and worried how it will go. These nerves are excitement,” says Gerrard.
“I feel confident I can do a good job and I am really looking forward to it. I am not scared nervous – I am excited nervous. I will be similar as I was as a player and see how it goes.”