Steven Gerrard: I tried to lure Toni Kroos and Willian to Anfield
By Merseyside correspondent Cam Downes
Steven Gerrard has admitted that he tried to persuade Toni Kroos and Willian to sign for Liverpool.
The Anfield icon was asked by manager Brendan Rodgers if he could help with luring Kroos from Bayern Munich in 2014 and Willian from Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala a year earlier.
Gerrard contacted both players via text message but was unable to prevent Kroos joining Real Madrid and Willian signing for Premier League rivals Chelsea.
Writing in his new autobiography, which is being serialised by Mail Online, Gerrard said: “I had an unofficial role at the club, trying to persuade some great players to join Liverpool. 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.”
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The Liverpool legend explained that elite footballers would often be swayed by factors unrelated to events on the pitch.
Gerrard said: “It was a game of texting ping-pong that had only small differences each time. Occasionally a player would say his wife or girlfriend preferred the idea of living in London, Madrid or Paris. The clear message was that there were fancier shops and swankier restaurants in bigger cities than Liverpool. I knew then that the deal was dead.
“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.”