PUBLISHED: 19:06 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 19:06 27 September 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Dean Gerken is back between the sticks for Ipswich Town. STUART WATSON spoke to the 33-year-old about replacing Bartosz Bialkowski, his major hip surgery and his contract situation.
ON RETURNING TO THE TEAM FOR THE LAST FOUR GAMES
I’m over the moon to be back in the team and helping out. It was a surprise to get the call for Norwich. Bart’s (Bialkowski) been brilliant over the last couple of years and it’s been hard for me to get in.
As I’ve said before, you just need to keep yourself prepared and if you do get the opportunity try to take it with both hands.
I’d say I’m just coming up to date with it again now. You do the Under-23 games, no disrespect to them because they help, but it’s nothing like being in front of a crowd and playing behind experienced players. It’s hard to get your full percentage of match fitness in those games.
It’s now up to me now to keep the spot.
I’ve come back from a big injury, and as much as I was feeling fit after hip surgery, there is still that 10% thinking ‘am I still going to be as match ready as I was?’
Thankfully all the preparation I’ve done over pre-season has stood me in good stead. It was a long pre-season because I came in with a base level of 5/10% and had to build myself all the way up from there, whereas usually you’ve still got a decent base fitness after a May/June break. This summer it felt like I was pretty much starting again as a YTS!
It was about tuning my body in to take the hard graft of playing 90 minutes. Bart being away for the World Cup gave me a few weeks to get some games in which was a big help from my point of view.
PLAYING AGAINST LEEDS BACK IN JANUARY
I think in the six weeks before that I trained once. On the Thursday beforehand all i was expecting was to come in, have a bit of lunch and say hello to a few of the lads and then (goalkeeper coach) Mally Webster gave me the look and said ‘Bart’s struggling, I want you to do a bit this afternoon’. I thought he was joking.
I went out there, he worked my legs and the next day it was ‘Bart’s definitely a no go’. I trained with the lads that morning and managed to get through the 90 minutes.
I didn’t really feel the pain, but I was restricted. Luckily they went down to 10 men from what I remember. After I did the 90 I thought ‘do you know what, maybe I don’t need the surgery, I think I’m alright’.
Then on Monday evening I took my little boy to football training, got out the car and it (hip) clicked again. I rang BY (physio Matt Byard) and said ‘right, I need that operation!’
I went from absolutely elated after the Leeds game to down in the dumps again on the Monday. Thankfully, touch wood, I’ve had the operation and I’m feeling good.
It was big surgery and touch and go whether it would heal what I had, but thankfully it seems to have done the trick.
Doing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday last week was a massive psychological boost in terms of knowing I can do it again. That’s the best I’ve felt in five years with the movement in my hip after labouring with it for so long.
LONG-TERM HIP PROBLEMS
Earlier in my career, when I was playing week-in and week-out, I always had a bit of a problem with my hip.
There was talk of an operation at Bristol, before I came here, but it wasn’t affecting me from one day to the next or anything like that.
However, the more I played the more I was aware of it. It would click and almost lock, which made life very difficult at times.
That was rare, like just once a season to start with, but eventually it was once a month. In fact, by the time I’d been here almost five years it was like a lottery whether I woke up with it or not.
The problem was that there was crushed bone in there and my hip was an odd shape.
Over the years, with all the kicking and landing on it when I made a save, it got progressively worse. It was so bad that when I was kicking I was chipping away at the bone, which I didn’t realise at the time.
It got to the stage where it was no longer a case of if, but when, I would have the surgery.
The surgeon ended up pulling out about six bone fragments from the hip joint, each of them about the size of an average tooth, and there were also 12 to 15 minute bits of bone that also had to be removed.
It was a massive clean-up and it’s now better than ever. The difference in the amount of movement I have in it now is astounding.
The operation itself was huge but there has been a lot of repair work around the area too. It took a while to build up the muscles and I feel my whole body is different to how it was aligned previously.
There’s nothing structurally wrong with me now and I’m really optimistic about the future. I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone.
RELATIONSHIP WITH BIALKOWSKI
We’ll always have the same relationship whether I’m playing, he’s playing, I’m injured, he’s injured, whatever. You could walk out on the training pitch and not be able to tell who is in the team with the way we act.
We’re both professional in what we do and we’re both mates. It’s a friendship having worked closely together for nearly six years now.
We don’t speak to each other any differently whoever is playing. If there was another goalie that came in and neither of us where playing we’d keep pushing each other.
Any time he wants to speak to me about stuff goalkeeper-wise he speaks to me and I speak to him.
I’ve always been supportive of him when he’s been in the team. I expect – and I know – he’ll do the same for me.
MAKING CRUCIAL SAVES
You don’t want to be making too many saves as a goalkeeper. I’m from the old school where I want to tell everyone else what to do in front of me and not have to do much!
Obviously as a goalkeeper you are fundamentally there to keep the ball out the back of the net and if I can do that at key moments then long may that continue.
BEEN PROMISED A RUN OF GAMES?
No. That wasn’t the conversation (with Paul Hurst). I got sort of told the day before the (Norwich) game that I might be playing.
From there it was about getting my head around the Norwich game. I felt perfect, I felt brilliant with all the prep. Then we had the two-week international break and just had to condition myself mentally for that one, not knowing if I’d play against Hull or not.
Thankfully I’ve had a few games and I’m feeling stronger with each one.
JANUARY INTEREST FROM CARDIFF
Yeah there was. There’s always phone calls that people like yourselves (the media) don’t know about.
I’m not one of them, especially under the last gaffer, that was going to go and unsettle the nest because of how he’d been with me.
If this gaffer or the chairman says ‘you’re not going’ then you’re not going. I’m not a bad lad and I wouldn’t disrupt the boys. I signed my contract.
As much as I was unhappy at not playing at the time, and there was maybe an opportunity to go and play somewhere, I wasn’t going to upset the nest.
Because I’ve been there in the past and done it at other clubs. And fundamentally I was the only one who lost out because my training levels went down.
That approach might work for other players, but goalkeeper is a niche position and if you step your foot off the gas you can get caught out. And I’ve been caught out in the past.
LAST YEAR OF CONTRACT
I never, no matter how well Bart or any other goalkeeper plays, sign a contract to sit on the bench. I always sign because I think I could still do a job within that team and whenever I get an opportunity I back myself to take it.
It’s obviously been a lot harder with how Bart has been over the last two or three years, but as long as I’m fit and healthy I back myself to push for a place.
The way I see it I’ve a few months left on my contract. Yes, the club still has an option for another year but for me it’s not an option in my favour so I consider I’m in the last year.
The extra year isn’t a given and that’s the way it is for any player in the same situation.
Contract up or not up, I just want to play games. The more games you play the longer your shelf life is going to be.
On a personal level I love doing it here with my mates and I’ve enjoyed my entire time with Ipswich. Fundamentally, I want to be here and play here.
But I don’t want to retire from playing and have regrets. In my head I have a number of games I want to play and if I don’t achieve that I’ll be disappointed with what I’ve achieved.
That’s always been a target since I was about 24 but I’m not going to tell you what that number is.