Steven George Gerrard. The name has become synonymous with Liverpool Football Club and all its success since the late 90’s.
Today, the skipper announced he would be leaving the club that he has shared his entire career with, good times and bad, to depart to sunnier climbs… and who can blame him?
He owes nothing to Liverpool Football Club.
He has stood by them (just about at times) through thick and thin and dug deep to drag his side through games they really shouldn’t have won. He is a freak talent who inspired so many with his raw, dynamic displays from the centre of midfield.
He began his career back in 1998, coming on as a last-minute substitution against Blackburn Rovers. No-one knew just how much influence this short-haired rough-looking youngster would have on the future of the Reds.
He quickly emerged as a versatile performer, slotting in at right-back and right wing-back among his sparse performances in the centre, but when he was given a true chance, he took in typical Gerrard fashion. A mazy run from deep against Sheffield Wednesday seen him drift past Des Walker before slotting home for his first Liverpool goal, one that would be the first of many at his beloved Anfield.
He quickly established himself as a leading talent, putting in hard-hitting performances from the centre of midfield, looking as though he would blossom into a leading midfielder.
I was really getting into football around this time and although I had been to a few games before (hazy memories) the first real game I take crystal clear memories from was the 4-1 victory over Coventry back in 2000.
Steven Gerrard was something else. As a player who was trying to add a physical edge to my game, watching Gerrard would teach more than any coach could. He marauded around the field with such confidence, with big tackles, sharp dashes, magnificent passes and deft finishes. He had it all.
I strolled around the park with my ‘Gerrard 17’ white away shirt, attempting to replicate the maestro. While others were more interested in the Michael Owen and Emile Heskey’s (yes, seriously), I would always be throwing in crunching tackles and turning defence into attack thanks to styling myself (fairly poorly) off Gerrard.
His career took giant strides, as he established himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet for both club and country. In the year of 2001, he won five trophies, scored in the UEFA Cup final and opened his account for the Three Lions with a stunning strike in a 5-1 win over Germany. Not bad, eh?
Then come the captaincy, where he led Liverpool with the armband following Gerard Houllier’s decision that Gerrard was the man to take the Reds forward. He was vocal but didn’t always need to be, as his performances gave his side the added edge to emulate the skipper and up their performance that extra 10%.
He began to turn in world-class performances, week-in, week-out, meaning Liverpool fans became accustomed to match-winning efforts and anything else was considered ‘an off-day’, as his pedestal that fans put him on continued to rise.
Then, in 2005, the performance that ensured he will go down in Liverpool folklore.
At 3-0 down and little hope remaining, Liverpool looked to their skipper (in hope more than expectation) for some inspiration. They soon had it, as he powered in a header, before making gestures to the fans to up the noise and make it a cauldron of red. They hardly had enough time before Vladimir Smicer had scored and Gerrard was brought down after a driving run through the centre. Xabi Alonso converted the penalty at the second time of asking and the rest is history.
Gerrard played almost every position on the park that night, including a match-winning shift at right-back, where he halted the constant attacking threat of the Milan side down the left. He walked off the pitch with all muscles aching, yet still holding belief. Liverpool went on to win on penalties and Gerrard became the first man to lift the trophy Graeme Souness in 1984. And this time… it was for keeps.
The ‘Gerrard Cup Final’ in 2006 was the last time he was really rewarded with the plaudits to match his performance as he led his side to F.A Cup glory. After going 2-0 early on, he responded with a fantastic defensive splitting lofted through ball, which Djibril Cisse converted first time, to get his side back in it. Gerrard then got in on the act himself, rifling home a volley to equalise and give his side momentum for the first time in the game.
It was short-lived however, as Paul Konchesky’s cross found itself lobbing an unsuspecting Pepe Reina and into the back of the net to give West Ham a 3-2 lead, delivering a hammer blow to the Reds’ hopes. As the clock ticked into added time, many had begun to give up, but not Stevie.
As the ball dropped out of the air, with the Cup seemingly heading back to London, Gerrard’s fatigue meant that instead of taking a touch and setting himself up… he simple had to hit it first time. And boy did he hit it.
As the ball nestled past a diving Shaka Hislop, the game was tied and momentum swung back into Liverpool’s favour.
Fitness told at the end of a hard season and the game petered out to a 3-3 draw, with neither side showing too much in extra-time.
Up steps the skipper, to blast in his third goal of the game from the spot and put his side in a commanding position in the shootout. The Reds went on to win thanks to Pepe Reina heroics in the shootout but it will be forever remembered as the ‘Gerrard Final’ as he put in one of the greatest individual performances in recent years. No-one could have won that final for Liverpool apart from Steven Gerrard.
Many thought that would the pinnacle of Steven Gerrard but the skipper continued to prove them wrong. The arrival of Fernando Torres in 2007 seen Gerrard pushed up into a more attacking role behind the Spaniard and the pair struck up a successful partnership for nearly four successful years. Gerrard added a cutting edge to his game with an almost telepathic link-up with Torres, bringing plenty of goals and assists during arguably the peak of both players’ careers.
The 4-0 demolition at Anfield summed the pair up. Frightening. Gerrard led by example, bagging a brace after Torres had opened the scoring and the skipper’s drive and determination seen him swagger around the pitch in complete control, against some superb rivals.
Then came the title challenge of last season. Gerrard was instrumental in getting his side through edgy games, using his experience to retain possession and motivate players who were emotionally and physically drained. He lost his pace over the last few years and although he failed to make driving runs and pitch in with goals from open play, his set-piece finesse won Liverpool plenty of points throughout the run.
Unfortunately Liverpool fell short and his slip which allowed Demba Ba to score and essentially secure three points for Chelsea, which is often revered by fans (most of whom, the result made no difference to, which is baffling) who forget that without the skipper, Liverpool wouldn’t have been in the position to even come close to winning the title. They had massively overachieved.
Over the years Gerrard played a number of roles for the Reds, with his early full-back days behind him, he often slotted in defensive-midfield before making his name as an out-and-out box-to-box midfielder. It was here his true ability was able to shine with his tacking, vision; execution and all-round technical play allowed to take centre-stage. Over the years he changed games with a big tackle, an unbelievable pass or a finish from out of this world.
He dragged Liverpool through games they shouldn’t have won. At times he was surrounded by poor quality players but he made them play above themselves, securing results by taking the game by the scruff of the neck and being relentless with the tempo that he ensured his side played at.
He is without doubt, the greatest midfielder I have had the pleasure of witnessing for Liverpool.
He was fortunate as he had the likes of Didi Hamann, Javier Mascherano, Momo Sissoko and more recently Lucas, to do his ‘dirty work’ in-terms of breaking play up and giving him the confidence to rein with plenty of freedom; however he worked to deserve that. The team realised how much benefit it would be to release the shackles on Gerrard and let him loose on the opposition. He was a freak of a talent.
Now he has made the difficult decision to leave Merseyside and it has been met with a mixture of emotions; sadness, fear, relief and downright angst. He is a hero of the club and one that will be very hard to replace.
However he has made the right decision in leaving Liverpool as it will allow his hero status to live long in the memory and ensures he goes down as a club legend. He is just a local lad with an extremely magnificent talent. Someone who the fans can relate.
In recent weeks and months, Gerrard’s deterioration has become more and more apparent. He is still the greatest passes at the club and his technical ability is second-to-none however his legs have gone.
He hasn’t got the pace to maintain the high-pressing game that Liverpool set-up with under Brendan Rodgers and he was simply a passenger when tried out in the defensive-midfield role. He unbalanced the side and fans and pundits were growing uneasy with Gerrard in the starting eleven, which shouldn’t really have happened given the talent he has.
It would be a sad state of affairs to watch someone who has given so much to the side, rot away his remaining days as a bit-part player, causing more harm than good to the Reds.
So, he has opted to acknowledge he has given Liverpool his best days and as the side looks to move on past the Gerrard era (with much needed help from the board, but that will be for a different post) he has unselfishly decided to step down. He could have easily signed another contract knowing he would be able to collect a nice amount of money to do minimal work but he has opted to shoot off to sunnier climbs and actually make a difference, if expected he is to arrive in the MLS, in a league which lacks the pace and intensity of the Premier League.
He will be in his element, picking up balls and being given time to find his target, something he is still magnificent at. In a game which is less physically taxing over there, he is prolonging his career as he could easily have another three years in the States, cementing himself as a hero over there.
The skipper has led by example for so many years but it is the right time to say goodbye. He has gotten Liverpool Football Club through many dark days and his career is something our generation can look back on with great fondness. I was never fortunate enough to witness Kenny Dalgish playing live for the Reds, but I was told to never expect anyone to get near his achievements or talent in a red shirt. Steven Gerrard did just that.
In a game that is increasingly involved with off-the-field matters, Gerrard delivered on the pitch, making football look so simple. His performances picked Liverpool up from the brink of mid-table mediocrity to push into the top level and challenge for European places, almost singlehandedly at times.
I have no doubt he will warm the Anfield dugout in the future, as a member of backroom staff or maybe even the gaffer. He is one in a million and one that Liverpool were extremely lucky to have.
Steven George Gerrard. Liverpool Legend.