by Paul Joyce in Randers for "The Daily Post"
Patrik Berger has abandoned plans to quit Liverpool and last night set his sights firmly on becoming an Anfield regular. The Czech international's U-turn follows a summer of soul-searching which has convinced him he can force his way into new joint-manager Gerard Houllier's thinking.
Berger was determined to call time on his Liverpool career at the end of last season after becoming frustrated at his failure to command a regular first team role.
He refused to sit on the bench for the Premiership clash with Bolton Wanderers in March and admitted he was eager to join countryman Karel Poborsky at Graeme Souness's Benfica.
Italian giants Roma were also keen to recruit the 25-year-old, who has made just 32 starts out of a possible 100 since his transfer from Borussia Dortmund after Euro 96.
However, Berger has returned for training with a positive attitude and aims to prove to Houllier and Roy Evans that he deserves the chance to impress week in, week out.
"Everything has changed," explained Berger, in near-perfect English. "Liverpool have said I need to stay and I have two years left on my contract. It was not too good last season but that is all forgotten now. This is a fresh start and I have a positive attitude. We all have the same chance to get into the team. It is up to us to impress the new manager. I just want to play."
"I want to forget last season and look forward to the new one. I will give it everything I can. All the talk about Benfica and Roma is finished. We have a strong squad here and I think we can win something."
One of Houllier's tasks, alongside persuading Steve McManaman to stay and recruiting a centre-half, will be to make sure Berger fulfils the potential only seen so far in tantalising glimpses. The Frenchman's first impression came against Crewe Alexandra last Friday and continued against Randers last night.
Houllier has assured Berger his future is at the club, but he also readily admits that ultimately he can only help the player to help himself.
"My first impression was that he can run," said Houllier. "He has a huge stamina and I was surprised with that. He is skilful, and if we get him organised and more disciplined to the game he will be a great asset to the team. He is in good shape. His spirit and mentality is good and he seems to be very positive. That is what I like."
Houllier adds: "Of course, he is a Czech international. He is young, he is improving, he is very keen on learning more and doing more and doing the right thing for the team. I cannot solve all his problems, he can solve them himself by doing it on the field. But we will help him."
"Roy shares the same view and says Patrik came back with a totally different attitude to last season; a totally different will for playing. He is very happy. In the career of a player there are sometimes dips and then they come back. It is not like a machine that runs smoothly."
"All I can say is that he has the potential, the skill, the attitude to do well this season. That is important. There is no way Roy or I want Patrik to leave. He is very much part of our plans."
Berger's wife and young family are happily settled and living in a luxury house in Southport. His son, also Patrik, is ready to begin nursery school. But the talented, attacking midfielder is keen to stress that playing regularly means more to him than anything the lifestyle he now enjoys can offer him.
"I just want to play regularly and if I do I want to sign a new contract," said Berger.
"My family are happy here. My son is starting pre-school and we have made lots of friends. When I first came the language barrier was a problem. I couldn't speak English, but that is better now. But I am not here for the life. Football was the problem last season. That must always come first.I just hope that we can win something this season. It is time we did."
The Daily Post - 28 July 1998