I remember my debut against Yeovil Town very well – we won comfortably. Looking back on me as an 18-year-old I think I was quite immature and I don’t think that player would survive in the game now. You’ve got to grow up at a really young age now, otherwise you won’t make it. I reckon at that age I was miles off it in terms of being a professional, but there were a lot of factors in that. It’s nice to look back on the journey and see how far I have come in that time.
Fifteen years seems a long time when you look at it on paper, but I don’t feel as old as that would suggest! Maybe that’s being part of a young team at Brighton. But I am proud of this milestone and still feel I’ve got a good few years left in me playing at the top.
I am enjoying learning new things, new positions and roles within the team and the journey that Brighton are on with Graham [Potter]. I’ve got a lot I can still offer. Someone said to me the other day that I don’t look like I am 30 which was nice to hear! Being around young players keeps you on your toes and makes you want to adapt so you are able to compete in the ferociousness of the Premier League.
When I broke through at Southampton my mindset was that I was going to play for them for the rest of my life. I knew the club, I’d been there since I was 12 and it was home for me. It didn’t cross my mind to play in the Premier League, I thought that if I could make it as a professional for Southampton then great, we were in the Championship at that point but soon after got relegated and I had to focus on where I was.
By the time I captained the club I was 24 I had played for a good few years, we’d won back-to-back promotions and I grew up very quickly. Getting the armband was something I was very proud of and I had to grow up even more with the added responsibility.
Being made captain might have raised a few eyebrows, but I was highly thought of. I symbolised Southampton to a degree at that point, a little bit like Jack Grealish at Aston Villa - it just made sense for him to be captain, the same way it did me. When you’re that age you don’t have to necessarily lead vocally, you do it through your performances. That came naturally to me.
I don’t think I’ve always been the leader I am now. As I’ve grown up I’ve realised the value in good communication and, the more confident I became, the more I knew it would help other people. I learned from the best players in the world at Liverpool and it reflected in my own performances and my own nature. I knew how important and beneficial that communication is although you probably won’t hear me as much with fans back! In the last 18 months it’s been easier to be heard because there’s not been any atmosphere. It’s going to be different this season, because you can’t always hear each other on the pitch.
When Liverpool came in for me I was interested and ready for a new challenge. There was no direction at Southampton at the time, Mauricio Pochettino had just left and I made it clear to the club that if Liverpool could meet the value they thought I was worth I wanted to speak to them. Departures don’t always work out as smoothly as you want them to. All these things work out in different ways and I’ve still got a lot of fond memories of Southampton. In fact the best relationship I have ever had on a pitch was with Rickie Lambert, the connection was unbelievable. I knew whatever ball I played he would be on the end of it.
I definitely had low moments at Liverpool, but the highs far outweigh the downs. I wouldn’t change the experience of any of it and I met some amazing people there. We had a lot of success with that team and I will always be grateful to Brendan Rodgers for signing me, before getting the opportunity to work with Jurgen Klopp, which was remarkable. I learned so much from him that will stay with me forever. I was very lucky that I got the opportunity to play for such a fantastic club.
They gave me the opportunity to play in a Champions League final. I was ready, but at the same time I wasn’t ready. I had played ten minutes of football at the end of the domestic season after being injured for seven or eight weeks with a massive hamstring injury after a stop-start season. I still can’t believe I came on really – I didn’t have any rhythm but Jurgen trusted me. For a couple of years I had been his go-to player, he counted on me. I gave my best and it was a shame we lost but we came back the following year and won it. I didn’t contribute as much in terms of minutes, but I know what I brought to that group and I am still very proud of what I achieved with that team.
I’ve lost a Champions League final and a Europa League final, I’ve lost a lot of finals! But I won the Champions League and the Premier League and I would rather focus on those. As long as you grow as a person and learn when you lose, there’s no harm in it. Everyone loses at some point. We got 97 points in the Premier League, we didn’t win it, but we won it the following year. We lost the Champions League final but bounced back and won it. That showed a huge amount about that group. You can only feel sorry for yourself briefly – the evening after the final for example – and it’s about learning. Looking back at my career, I have always bounced back from those low moments. I was relegated from the Championship with Southampton then we won consecutive promotions to the Premier League. I had a tough first year at Liverpool, but then won silverware. I am proud of what I have achieved.
I don’t have a preference of the Premier League or Champions League titles, but the Champions League was unbelievable because we got to experience it with the fans. I left Liverpool as a Premier League winner, but we did it in an empty stadium – something didn’t feel right about that. It doesn’t keep me up at night - I’ve got a winner's medal after all - but it would have been nice to have had the parade and a packed Anfield as it was the first time they had won the Premier League. It was one of those things - Covid changed everyone’s life.
It took me two or three months to settle at Brighton. Graham Potter was finding out about me and I was finding out about him and the club. In the second half of last season there was a stage when I was playing some of the best football in my career, definitely in the last three or four years. I want to reach those levels again and be successful. It might not be for 90 minutes in every game, but I feel I am as fit as I’ve been for quite a long time.
I am learning more now than I ever have. I don’t know if that comes with age – I am less stubborn and more open minded. I love coming into work with the people here and the facilities. I am looking forward to the journey we are as we’ve got some really good young players and a good blend. It’s an exciting time.
I look back at my career and I can’t think of one season when I really wasn’t enjoying myself. I’ve been at fantastic clubs with amazing dressing rooms and equally good managers. It’s not often you look back and think about your career, but having this anniversary has given me that opportunity to realise how happy I’ve been both domestically and on the international stage.
It was a huge honour to represent my country at two tournaments, but we underachieved. I would have loved to have been in the squads at the last two England campaigns given the success the team enjoyed, but I was able to experience it as a supporter and I went to every England game at the Euros this year with my children. My time with England came to an end just as Gareth Southgate was starting his reign. I’ve worked with Gareth, he’s a wonderful man and he was brilliant with me. Things sometimes don’t work out but that’s football and that’s the journey you go on.
I’ve been blessed with the managers I’ve had. I remember Alan Pardew treated me like I was a superstar when I wasn’t! I was an up-and-coming player and he was great with me because he was the first proper manager I had.
Nigel Adkins came in and he was fantastic. He led us to back-to-back promotions and gave me the captaincy. Mauricio Pochettino arrived and was a father figure to me, he treated me like his son and I will never forget the 18 months we had together, I wish it had been longer. He was a special man.
Brendan took me to Liverpool, it was a difficult year both personally and for the club and it would have been nice to work with him for longer as he would have seen more from me if we’d had that time, but sometimes you don’t get the time you want to have.
Jurgen came and he got the best out of me and we won a lot of silverware, which was the ultimate goal. We’d have had our moments which every player and manager does, but I look back now and think what a five years I had working with him – what a manager and what a person. We still talk on the phone and over WhatsApp, it’s great to have these relationships.
I get to work with Graham now which is just as good and I am learning just as much. To be 33 and still learning is remarkable. I feel as young as I ever have and that’s a credit to him and his staff and how they look after me. I have my own programme as a senior member of the team who’s a little bit older, we have got the balance just right.
I’ll often flick through pictures on my phone and see myself during a couple of years when I just couldn’t sustain my fitness. It was never a long-term injury with me, it was just another niggle and I couldn’t get any rhythm, I just pushed too hard which happens. I was so desperate to do well and you learn a lot through injuries. There were plenty of dark days, but I am better for it.
Injuries have taught me there is life after football. I felt that I could have played more games for England and Liverpool, but I am not the only one who has suffered injuries, football is a physical sport.
I would rather think about the games I have played and won, rather than the ones I have lost or missed.