Steven Gerrard is 35. He has played in three World Cup tournaments, has 114 international caps, won English FA Cup titles and is generally recognized as one of the best players of his generation.
In other words, he’s going to be just fine in Los Angeles.
Eight years ago, Gerrard wrote in his autobiography that he often suffered from homesickness in international tournaments. Before signing with the Galaxy in January, he had played with Liverpool for 16 years. So questions about how he would adjust to playing in the U.S. abounded.
“Well, I’m going to make sure I warm up a bottle of milk for him,” Arena said jokingly. “I think he’s going to be fine. This is a man who’s played in World Cups, he’s traveled all over the world, he’s well prepared for this move.”
Gerrard laughed off the homesickness comments from his book, pointing out that he made them nearly a decade ago.
“I’m a big boy. I’ve matured,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more experience under my belt. I’m also the father of three kids now. I don’t think I’m going to get homesick anymore. I’m prepared to stay here for as long as possible and help this club moving forward.”
It has been six months since the Galaxy announced Gerrard’s signing and he has had plenty of time to prepare himself and his family for the transition, he said.
“If my wife Alex and the girls are happy, that’s going to help me perform on the pitch, so that’s going to be key,” he said.
In October, Gerrard said he was open to playing with another club if Liverpool did not re-sign him. Then, on Jan. 1, he announced that he would play elsewhere, declining the reduced playing time that came with a contract offer from Liverpool. Six days later, he finalized an agreement with the Galaxy.
“I had options to stay in the Premier League, options to stay in Europe, but I didn’t want to play against Liverpool,” Gerrard said.
Arena said he was surprised to have the chance to sign Gerrard. He and Klein said there was no hesitation on the Galaxy's part.
“I don’t think we needed too many references in the case of this player,” Arena said.
Arena added that the timing was right to sign a player of Gerrard’s caliber. Comparing it the Galaxy's acquisition of David Beckham in 2007, he said the franchise was far more equipped to handle Gerrard’s assimilation into the team.
“I don’t believe our organization was ready for David Beckham when he arrived. If it was today, we’d be much better prepared. So it makes these kinds of moves a lot easier. We’ve matured a lot as an organization,” Arena said.
Gerrard is the oldest player on the Galaxy’s roster but will be thrust into one of the busiest portions of the team's schedule. The Galaxy plays Mexico's Club America on Saturday in a CONCACAF Champions League game, then travels to Utah to face Real Salt Lake in the U.S. Open Cup before returning to StubHub Center to face the San Jose Earthquakes in an MLS game.
Arena said he expects a short transition period in which Gerrard does not play 90 minutes. He said the midfielder probably will start Saturday and play no more than 45 minutes.
The coach said Gerrard will play in the center of the team’s 4-4-2 formation alongside Juninho. And although Arena said there would be adjustments as Gerrard and Juninho get used to each other, he expects Gerrard to be the more attacking midfielder.
“We’re not bringing him here to be a defensive midfielder. He needs to be a little bit closer to goal,” Arena said. “He’ll work hand in hand with Juninho. … We don’t necessarily define one over the other in the midfield area. They’ll share responsibilities.”