EVERY so often, in different walks of life, an individual comes round who turns out to define a generation. In football, a player might go down as one of the all-time greats to play the sport. Steven Gerrard is certainly one of those figures, yet his is a legacy which extends beyond the realms of the game. He is not only the face of a generation, but an icon of pride and success for the city of Liverpool.
It felt like the end of an era when Gerrard first departed for LA Galaxy, but having hung up his boots for the last time, it feels only right to look back and pay tribute to one of Liverpool’s greatest ever.
Making his debut on 29th November 1998, as a last minute substitute vs Blackburn Rovers, Gerrard lived the dream of every Liverpool fan. From growing up on Ironside Road on the Bluebell estate in Huyton, Liverpool, he progressed all the way through the ranks into the senior side, clocking up 710 games and 186 goals for his boyhood club.
Taking the captain’s armband from Sami Hyypia in October 2003, at 23 years of age, Gerrard seemed destined for greatness from a young age. His first goal for the club in December 1999 against Sheffield Wednesday was a sign that he could become something truly special, as he skipped past a couple of defenders with consummate ease before firing an emphatic finish into the bottom corner. It was an early glimpse of what was to come. Liverpool had a new star on their hands.
The rest is history. Gerrard progressed from a talented, lanky teenager playing on the right wing, to become not only one of the greatest midfielders in the world, but one of the very best players on the planet. His ability to strike the ball with such venom from range was almost unparalleled. A physical, swashbuckling tackler, he also had the vision to spot a 50-yard cross field pass and make the sublime appear so simple. Playing as a number 10 behind Fernando Torres, he was simply a phenomenon; a genuine force of nature.
“Gerrard is for me, in the position he plays, one of the very best in the world. He has a huge impact. For the job he performs, for me, he is one of the greatest.” — Ronaldinho
“Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo but yes, I think he just might be. He has great passing ability, can tackle and scores goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can’t learn that – players like him are just born with that presence.” — Zinedine Zidane
Perhaps what made Gerrard so special, in comparison to many other great footballers, was his ability drag his team from the depths of despair through to victory, single-handedly. Not only an outstanding footballer, he was an inspirational leader both on and off the field. With his side 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan in 2005, his headed goal was the catalyst one of the most memorable comebacks in footballing history, inspiring his boyhood club to a fifth European Cup. Using his arms to gee up the crowd as he ran back towards the centre circle is an image that will live long in the memory. It was one of the most inspirational individual performances I can ever remember. To see him lift that trophy — not just as captain of Liverpool but one of us, a fan — was unforgettable. These moments live forever.
“I am a huge fan of Steven Gerrard, He has the heart of a lion. He is a player I would like to have in my team.” — Kaka
There are so many iconic goals and Gerrard performances to choose from when looking back on such an illustrious career. The obvious one which stands out is the stunning half-volley from 25-yards against Olympiakos to keep Liverpool in the Champions League on the road to Istanbul in 2004. There’s the kiss-the-badge celebration at Old Trafford, his numerous goals in Merseyside Derbies and that stunning hit against Middlesbrough in 2005.
“Steven Gerrard is the best player I’ve ever played with.” — Luis Suarez
“He is without doubt the greatest player I have ever played with, he has everything. At Liverpool, he is irreplaceable.” — Fernando Torres
Yet how many players can claim they have an FA Cup final remembered in their name? Gerrard scored twice that day in 2006 vs West Ham, firing a 40-yard equaliser in the 90th minute while suffering from cramp. I don’t think I’ve seen a technically superior or more crucial strike in my lifetime. Liverpool went on to lift the cup that day, once again inspired to glory by their captain.
The list of honours, both club and individual, that Gerrard achieved throughout his career is remarkable.
Three League Cups, two FA Cups, one Champions League, one Community Shield, one UEFA Cup and one UEFA Super Cup.
Eight times PFA Team of the Season, four times Liverpool Player of the Season, three times UEFA Team of the Year, three times FIFPro World XI, two times England Player of the Year, Ballon D’Or Bronze (2005), UEFA Club Footballer of the Year (2005).
Gerrard remains the only player ever to score in an FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and UEFA Cup final. He scored the most 90th minute-or-later winning goals in Premier League history (four) and has scored more league goals at Old Trafford (five) than any other player.
Those who try to downplay his achievements by pointing out his lack of a league title might as well do likewise for Gianluigi Buffon for his lack of a Champions League winners medal, or Lionel Messi for not winning an international trophy with Argentina. The plain and simple truth is, Gerrard could have gone wherever he liked and filled his trophy cabinet if he wished to do so.
“I can’t think of a striker in the world who has scored so many important goals, never mind a midfielder.” – Thierry Henry
“He has become the most influential player in England, bar none. Not that Vieira lacks anything, but Gerrard does more.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
The only reason he didn’t win a league title is because loyalty mattered more to him. Winning what he did with Liverpool meant more than a league title elsewhere. Again, his critics will jeer at the “slip” against Chelsea which supposedly cost Liverpool the league in 2014 — yet without Gerrard’s outstanding contribution that season, Liverpool would never have been in the race.
You only have to look at the list of players who have taken to social media to post messages of congratulations since Gerrard’s announcement of his retirement. Kaka, Cafu, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez, Iker Casillas, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Beckham, Pepe Reina etc. Even AC Milan and Barcelona have posted messages of thanks for his contribution to the sport.
“He’s a terrific player; he’s a match-winner, so I think he’s a player any club in the world would want.” — Francesco Totti
Jürgen Klopp has left the door wide open for Gerrard to return to Liverpool in some capacity. In the immediate future, punditry looks to be his main focus while a coaching role at Liverpool’s academy looks likely to be the next step. Getting such a legendary figure back involved at the club is a no-brainer, for he carries experience like no other.
In a modern era where patience is such a limited commodity at the top level of football, it is more difficult than ever for talented youth players to progress through academy systems and establish themselves at senior level. The common tendency is for clubs to recruit lucrative, multi-million pound signings from outside as a fast track to success.
Gerrard represents a dying breed of footballer — it seems highly unlikely we’ll see another of his ilk during our lifetime. Not without flaws, Gerrard could never be accused of not giving absolutely everything for the shirt. Responsible for so many iconic memories, Gerrard’s legacy is woven into the fabric of Liverpool Football Club. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to watch his magnificent career unfold.
A true legend in every sense of the word. Thanks for everything, Stevie. All the best.