Just a little tidbit from his book that will clear up an issue that puzzled many: just what happened to his shooting power and precision in his later years?
There have been two occasions where Chris helped save my career, and my sanity, when all seemed threatened or lost. In 2011 it felt like my groin and my mind were ruined for ever, blown to smithereens by pain and despair. Chris came to my rescue.
I’d had groin problems my whole career, adductor muscle pain and numerous surgeries on my hernia. My groin, and the gracilis [a small muscle in the inner thigh] release I’d needed, had cost me my place in the 2002 World Cup. It was a chronic issue and I’d already had a revision of a previous hernia procedure to reinforce the lower abdominal wall. But in March 2011 I had suffered a groin avulsion. It’s an injury that’s as nasty as it sounds because, basically, the whole of your groin muscle comes off the bone.
It happened after I did a Cruyff turn at Melwood. I managed to walk off the pitch and get to the treatment room. As soon as I hobbled in, the medical team knew I was in trouble. ‘What happened?’ Chris said, worry lining his voice.
I shook my head. ‘My groin’s just exploded.’
It was a dramatic word, but ‘exploded’ had a measure of accuracy. They soon worked out that I had pulled the adductor longus tendon off at the bone. The avulsion had occurred where my adductor muscle attaches onto my pubic symphysis area.
Your adductor muscle primarily helps when you swing your leg across your body. It is possible for such an injury to heal itself because it can form a new attachment lower down. Some footballers actually play with a half-attached adductor and they get assigned a secondary cleft – a little gap which helps them manage their movements. But as soon as I heard from the surgeon that, if we followed that non-interventionist approach, I could lose power when making a trademark crossfield pass, I was adamant. I wanted surgery. If all went well, the surgeon assured me, the adductor muscle would feel as good as new.
I was happy to take his advice and he also reassured me that Frank Lampard had come back from the same injury. I would be out for twelve weeks but I would make a complete recovery. It ended my season but Chris said he would come out to Portugal with me in the summer. I would be ready to play again long before the start of the 2011–12 season.
It was vital to have a strong core around the groin and adductor area because, in a typical Premier League game, I would run eight miles and a mile of that distance would be covered at high speed. There was always plenty of twisting and turning of the groin and the adductor. Some players believed that massage was the key to everything but our medical team had a strong belief that active rehabilitation, strengthening and hard work were essential in ensuring that the surgery was successful.
I nodded. After the surgery I would be ready to put in as much hard work as we needed.
The operation seemed routine and it left me with a neat four-inch scar. It was another to add to the collection. But we soon hit a problem. I kept suffering from discomfort and, sometimes, pain in and around my pelvis. Chris, the Liverpool doctors Zaf Iqbal and Peter Brukner and the surgeon Ernest Schilders all examined me – and gave the all-clear. It was still early days. I just needed to relax and allow the adductor to heal.
We thought some sun would sort me out. I was longing to get to Portugal and feel back to normal again. Alex, the girls and I went out for our summer break – and Chris took a working holiday with us. We would go to the gym in the morning and evenings to work hard and he would leave me to enjoy my holiday with the family the rest of the time.
It was frustrating. We kept needing to pull back in terms of our targets for the first of July – the day I hoped to start preseason training. Anything as simple as a high knee-step or a lunge would hurt too much. They were the basic exercises we needed to strengthen the adductor.
We devised a new plan that we would pick up the pace at Melwood. I would, surely, be fully rested and recovered by then.
The plan went awry. On my first day back at Melwood, after we’d done some lengthy but gentle warm-up routines, we decided I would go for a little jog. I knew I couldn’t kick a ball but, surely, I could manage a ten-minute jog around the training fields. I had made some progress in the pool and on the alter-g, a weight-bearing treadmill which enables you to jog without placing any stress on your body.
I was looking forward to it, the simple mindless pleasure of being outside and moving one foot in front of the other at a steady pace. I had not run for a very long time.
My feet began to move. One, two, three … and by the time I had taken my ninth and tenth step I had to stop. My face was a mask of pain.
I could not run another step. It was excruciating; and it was frightening.
What was going on? I was a professional footballer and I couldn’t even run ten paces. My operation had been twelve weeks earlier. I was meant to be fit and flying by now.
It was obvious that the medics were also concerned. Part of their job was to study the clinical side and then pinpoint the reasons a player might be feeling pain. Such explanations always helped ease the stress and the worry. But they were not sure what to tell me. All the tests the doctors had since run showed that the surgery had been successful. Yet I still felt completely crippled.
They had explained years earlier that I picked up more injuries than many players because I was hyper-mobile. That meant I had real flexibility around my joints. It was great in the sense that flexibility helped my football. The downside was I was also more susceptible to injury. But my latest injury had apparently been resolved by surgery.
Chris and the doctors studied a new set of scans. They went through each of them in detail with me. They showed me that, when I tore off the adductor, I had also stripped away the ligament underneath the pubic symphysis. That explained why my movement was hampered and it perhaps indicated some instability. It was suggested that the gapping in my pelvic area was causing the pain. There was not much we could do about it except wait for the ligament to heal properly.
A week later, feeling a little better, we had a meeting with all the medics and it was decided I’d avoid running for a while. I’d switch to cycling.
Melwood felt very empty, with the first-team squad away on a preseason tour, but Darren Burgess, the club’s head fitness coach, soon called me. He asked me to do a twenty-four-minute bike ride. ‘Do this one for a physical hit,’ Darren said, ‘and let me know how you get on.’
The plan was to build on that first real test on the bike. Jordan Milsom, a good friend of mine and a top fitness coach, would be there to monitor me and the readings. I climbed on the bike and I began to pedal.
Wow, it was so painful. After two or three minutes, with sweat already beading my brow, and my face stretched into the wrinkly grimace of a very old man, it felt like I was having to ride all the way from Liverpool to the Trafford Centre in Manchester while sitting on a saddle of nails. That’s how agonizing it felt.
After five minutes I gave up. I had to stop. I surrendered.
I left a message on Darren’s voicemail. ‘You cannot put me through that again,’ I said. ‘Something’s not right. It feels serious.’
I was getting lower and lower. ‘It’s not feeling good,’ I told Jordan and Chris. ‘It’s excruciating.’
‘Where exactly are you feeling the pain?’ Jordan asked.
‘Sort of behind the balls,’ I said.
They looked worried.
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘it feels like someone is trying to knife me behind the balls.’
We didn’t laugh. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to kick a ball again. It had been almost four months since my fateful Cruyff turn. At this stage
I was meant to be ready for a full-scale game. But my body had given up.
The pain was sporadic. I could go for hours feeling fine and then it would suddenly knife me when I was doing something as simple as getting in or out of my car.
‘It sounds like the pain is being caused when you open up the pelvis,’ Chris suggested.
‘Could be,’ I said. ‘There’s something going on between my privates and the middle. There’s something underneath my pelvis. It feels like my pelvis is opening. It’s like a great big gapping.’
Zaf Iqbal and Chris took me back to the surgeon, Ernest Schilders, who had done the operation at the Yorkshire Clinic near Bradford. Schilders was a fine surgeon, from Belgium, whom the club had relied on for years as our hip and groin specialist. I trusted him and I was even more worried when he could not identify any reason for the stabbing pain. We told him about the aborted jog, and the abandoned bike ride. Schilders looked bemused. He again said that he was completely confident the surgery had been successful. Schilders thought we needed a fresh pair of eyes. He suggested I see a pelvic specialist down in London.
It was sounding more and more serious. I couldn’t jog. I couldn’t ride a bike. I couldn’t kick a ball. And there was no chance I could jump up in the air and head it. I wasn’t able to do much at all.
Zaf, Chris and I travelled down by train to London. I had plenty of time to talk to them. They tried to keep my spirits up but we all knew that there was a real danger I might not improve. We had to face the possibility that, over fourteen years as a first-team player, so much damage had been done around the joint that the whole pelvis had been made unstable. Without a supporting structure I was finished as a hyper-mobile player, and probably as any sort of player. As soon as I tried even the most basic movements my whole pelvis felt like it was shearing.
Zaf and Chris encouraged me. Maybe the pelvic surgeon would come up with a simple solution. Perhaps it would be possible to pin the pelvis?
I shuddered when it was explained that it would be similar to putting a bolt through the joint.
Terrific. I didn’t feel good as we met our latest specialist, the pelvic guy, and I waited to hear if he was about to tell me it really was all over. He was very thorough and, after a long examination, he went back to the scan taken that morning.
‘Look here,’ he said, pointing to a shadowy smudge. ‘You’ve got all of this white fluid here. I don’t know how much fluid you should have after this procedure because it’s not one that I do. But you need to find out what’s going on with this fluid. You’d better go back to Schilders.’
We were going round in circles. But, on the train journey back to Liverpool, Doc Iqbal explained that a build-up of fluid usually indicated an infection. It was confusing as he had already carried out a full battery of blood tests for infection. The clearest sign of an infection is a high white blood-cell count and mine had remained normal throughout the long haul. Maybe Schilders would have a brainwave.
An appointment back in Bradford was arranged with Schilders for later that week. Zaf and Chris asked me to rest up as much as possible at home.
The body works in miraculous ways and maybe it decided that my poor old heart and brain had ached enough. It began to do something very strange. The next day, at home, my wound opened a little. It seeped out white, yellowy, gunky pus.
A clean, perfectly stitched scar opened up – less like a flower than a nasty weed with white and yellow buds on the top. What the fuck was going on now? I found a cotton wool pad and dabbed it clean. More gunk began to ooze out.
I was so scared of what I saw I took a photo of my wound. I was having a serious panic. I sent the image to Chris with a message:
What the fuck is this?
Chris texted back:
This is v good. Will call in 2 mins. This means it really is an infection.
I messaged him –
– after sending another photographic update.
Chris called me. I told him that I’d just had to use another pad to clear the next hit of pus.
‘It’s great news, Stevie,’ Chris enthused. I must have grunted dubiously because he quickly explained that my pain had almost certainly been caused by the pus pushing the joint apart. It also caused the sensation of instability in my pelvis. We had been worried that something had become seriously unhinged in the pelvic area. But, instead, the build-up of fluid had caused immense pressure on the joint and essentially forced it apart. No wonder it had felt unstable.
Chris got me back to Bradford quickly to see Schilders and have a repeat MRI scan. It was clear as day, they said, after they had examined the scan. They could see the build-up of pus jammed right between the joint and my pubic symphysis. The apparently normal post-op fluid was probably a raging infection which, bizarrely, hadn’t been picked up by any of the tests.
I began to understand. No wonder it had felt as if I was being stabbed in the bollocks.
While we waited for them to run a test on the pus, to confirm it was the infection they all suspected, Chris took me for a coffee in Shipley, on the edge of Bradford. He was fired up. ‘We need this to be an infection,’ he told me. ‘If this is an infection you’ll be fine. You’ll be sorted.’
I was suddenly desperate. I wanted to be infected. I was praying silently for an infection.
An hour later the results were in and there was absolute confirmation. I was infected. I felt like punching the air. What a result!
Schilders smiled. He understood. He was also relieved. There had been a 1 in 10,000 chance of picking up an infection during surgery. I got the one – and it explained everything. But it was all right. I would go into the Spire, a hospital in Liverpool, and spend a week recovering. They would pump me full of antibiotics and kill off the infection.
There was a chance I would be playing again in late September 2011, early October at the latest. I could not stop smiling as I headed off to hospital for a week.
I had no idea then I would soon feel far lower than I’d ever done before. Yet another mysterious injury, and a deep depression, loomed over me. The worst was on its way.
At first there was only good news. In hospital my pain diminished rapidly. The pus had been drained away and I felt a noticeable improvement in my movement every day. My recovery had begun.
Within a week of getting home I was back at Melwood. I was able to jog freely a few days later. I could ride a bike without pain. I could soon run. I could jump. I could kick a ball. It was a beautiful feeling.
I was still nervous. I had been out for six months and had lost confidence in my body. I wasn’t sure if my groin and pelvis would stand up to the rigours of training. But within a few days I felt like my old self again. I felt normal, at last.
I made my comeback on 21 September 2011.
Excerpt from Gerrard: My Story
I'm sure most of us have read his book, for the few that haven't, there you go. Obviously not so much the infection, but it's quite clear the original groin avulsion in 2011 pretty much killed the Gerrard thunderbolt, whether mechanically or through the player's conscious decision to never go full blast again.