Forget the chant about the slip, forget the memes about who has won more Premier League titles, when it comes to legends of the Premier League era, Steven Gerrard is always a part of the conversation.
Like many of players in the our “Legends” collection, Gerrard was a homegrown player who gave the majority of his career to one club and helped them achieve some amazing things. Blood-and-guts challenges, lung busting runs and never-ending effort were some of the defining characteristics of the long time Liverpool captain’s playing career but as is so often the case, goals make heroes and Gerrard had a habit of scoring both vital and spectacular goals.
He made his debut at 18 in 1998. It took the young player a little while to get settled but by 2000 he was a regular in the side. A number of injuries that year took him out of the action but when he returned for the 2000/01 season, he was ready to hit the ground running.
It would prove to be an important year for Gerrard. He managed ten goals in all competitions and his over all play helped the Merseyside club to an incredible Cup treble. He lifted the FA Cup, The League Cup and the Uefa Cup and was also rightly named PFA Young Player Of The Year.
Gerrard was made Liverpool captain at the tender age of 23. This is as much a testament to his own skill and influence on the team as it is a damning inditement of the way things were for Liverpool at the time and for much of Gerrard’s time at the club. For the majority of his career, Gerrard was the best player at Liverpool.
“He has become the most influential player in England, bar none. Not that Vieira lacks anything, but Gerrard does more.”
– Sir Alex Ferguson
Of course there were quality team mates every now and then, Owen, Alonso, Risse, Cisse, Torres and Suarez but they were few and far between. It seemed as though they arrived to provide relief for Gerrard in his one man quest to make Liverpool a great side again.
Gerrard was a great player in an average side who made them a good team. A winning team. There was the cup treble and later there were some incredible moments. There was his last minute strike against Olympiakos to keep Liverpool in the 2004/05 Champions League, which of course was followed up by what is potentially the greatest and most Roy of the Rovers-style performance in living memory.
With his side 3-0 down at half-time to AC Milan in the Champions League final Gerrard was on hand to first, give them some hope with a cracking header to bring them back in to the game and then just six minutes later make them truly believe they could win it when he won a penalty to help them equalise, setting up that famous shoot-out victory.
He was at it again the following season, scoring an injury-time, 35-yard screamer against West Ham in the FA Cup final to take them to extra time and ultimately victory. He later revealed that he was so tired and suffering so much from cramp that it was all he could do to hit it, but his sweet strike will live long in the memory.
No-one would say that Liverpool have been a major force in English football in the last 20 years but thanks to Gerrard they won the Champions League (and reached another final), won two FA Cups, three League Cups, The UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. It’s hard to think of another individual player who has had such an influence on the success of a club. He is the only player to have scored in the finals of the Champions League, Uefa Cup, Fa Cup and League Cup.
Along with the spectacular goals and eye catching displays, Gerrard’s consistency and reliability helped to endear him to fans. His 695 Liverpool appearances speak for themselves and he is the club’s 3rd all-time league appearance maker. He is also Liverpool’s sixth-top scorer of all-time and their highest scorer in Europe ever, not bad for a player whose game was as much about the midfield battle as it was about going forward.
Gerrard had it all, he scored all kinds of goals, build partnerships all over the pitch, he could tackle, he could pass, he could beat a man and as a player he very nearly did it all. The failure to win a League title may well haunt him but the majority of players will never win a league title, the majority will never even come close.
The infamous “slip” against Chelsea was unfortunate and the subsequent glee from football fans up and down the country in singing about it at every game was unfair and uncalled for, especially for a player who had given so much to his club.
If another player slipped and handed the title to another side, would there be a song? Maybe for a while, from one club, but would it take off around every club in the land? Of course not.
Gerrard dragged that side to the top of the game for over a decade, he was Captain of England, he was a living, playing, legend in the game. He was important and that’s why people were willing to have a go. Actually, when you think about it, perhaps it’s the ultimate tribute.
Steven Gerrard, “Captain Fantastic”, the man who ensured Liverpool remained a top team through the lean years and who is now back at the club helping to build the next generation of players, was and is without doubt a true Liverpool Legend.