Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year. Featured 8 times in the PFA Team of the Year. Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. FA Cup Final Man of the Match. Champions League Final Man of the Match. UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. Ballon d’Or Bronze Award.
One UEFA Cup. One UEFA Super Cup. One FA Community Shield. Three League Cups. Two FA Cups. One UEFA Champions League trophy.
Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Has there ever been another captain who has divided the entire footballing community? Respected by his rivals. Courted by managers all over Europe. Mocked by rival fans. Idolized by his teammates and worshipped by the KOP. Songs are still sung about the charismatic captain of Liverpool by both the Anfield faithful and the away end. The red end of Liverpool has been witness to multiple murals of their beloved number eight. Walk into a local bakery and ask anyone about Stevie G, and you’ll spend hours listening to stories of their celebrated captain. To Liverpudlians, Steven Gerrard is more than just a captain. He is their golden boy, their legend. He made them believe in dreams. In football, no player is bigger than the club. But Steven George Gerrard, the tousled haired boy from Whiston has come pretty close.
First noticed by scouts when he was playing for Whiston, aged nine, it would be eight years before he signed his first professional contract with the club, even doing a trial with arch enemies Manchester United just to pressurize the club into giving him the YTS contract. On 5th November 1997, Steven Gerrard became a Liverpool player.
He made his debut a year later, on 29th November 1998, against a flailing and already beaten Blackburn Rovers. The Anfield faithful would see their illustrious captain for the first time as he warmed up near the touchline, waiting to come on, blissfully ignorant of the player, and the captain he’d turn out to be.
“All the subs were applauded when Gérard Houllier sent us to warm up. Well, nearly all. When I ran towards the Kop I could almost hear them saying: “Who’s this skinny little twat?'”
It would be a largely underwhelming debut, as the world watched Steven Gerrard run nervously along the wings in the final few moments of a match whose fate was already decided, his only contribution being an overhit cross that went all the way to the upper Centenary Stand. The nightmare, however, did not end there. With Houllier not quite sure where Gerrard should play, the manager asked the teenager to patrol the right of midfield against Tottenham in the League Cup. He was to challenge David Ginola and resist Paul Ince’s at the same time. Ginola was in the form of his life, and Paul Ince was at his aggressive best. It was never a contest. Out of his depth, out of his position and out of breath, Gerrard could only hope that his parents were out when Match of the Day came on television.
A nervous debut and an underwhelming first game. Had that happened today, Gerrard would have been written off by pundits, fans and social media analysts. However, things were different back then, and nobody was unduly worried.
“We knew from the age of 14 they were both going to make it. We took them both on an under-18 tour of Spain when they were 13 or 14, which I never did before or since. And their parents knew that I knew they were special.”- Steve Heighway on Steven Gerrard and his contemporary Micheal Owen.
Liverpool were a faint shadow of the giants they used to be when Gerrard wore the Liverpool Red for the first time. They were ninth in the league, had been swept aside by Tottenham in the league cup and to make matters worse, had lost comprehensively at home to Derby. The twilight era of the likes of David James, Jamie Redknapp, Jason McAteer, and Steve McManaman heralded a long night. The club was in disarray, with Roy Evans and Gerrard Houllier heading towards a messy divorce. The fans were not happy. Only 22,000 turned up to watch Fulham in the League cup towards the end of October. Less than 21,000 showed up at the defeat to Tottenham in the next round. Liverpool were preparing for the long night when Gerrard arrived.
Two years later, they won three trophies in a single season: The League Cup, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Cup.
Playing alongside Danny Murphy, Hamann and McAllister, Gerrard was given a monumental task: to fill in the boots of injured captain Jamie Redknapp. The 21-year-old did not disappoint. In fact, he ended up exceeding expectations. Instrumental in the treble-winning season, he scored 10 goals along the way, including one in the European final against Alaves. Gerrard was named the PFA Young Player of The Year, standing out in a team that consisted of Robbie Fowler, Sami Hyppia, Babbel, Carragher, and contemporary Micheal Owen.
In 2002, he had added the UEFA Super Cup to his haul of silverware as Liverpool beat Bayern Munich in the final. Liverpool also finished second in the Premier League, losing out to Arsenal by seven points.
In 2003, his long-range shot deflected off of Devid Beckham found the back of the net, breaking a 36-minute deadlock in the League Cup final against United. Liverpool would go on to win 2-0, lifting yet another trophy.
In October 2003, Houllier placed the armband around the arm of the 23-year-old, whose shirt still billowed around him. And just like that, Steven Gerrard had gone from nervous substitute to Liverpool’s homegrown captain in 5 years.
“It was a big moment for me – one of the best days of my life really.”
Steven Gerrard peaked as Liverpool captain, leading the team both on and off the pitch, winning games for the redmen left, right and centre. He was the anchor and the masthead alike, the constant in the period of entropy. Long before Jurgen Klopp’s men snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the most absurd and unlikely of methods, the Number 8 did that with aplomb, controlling the game from within the midfield.
Turn back the clock to 2004, when Liverpool needed to win against a defiant Olympiakos by a minimum of two goals to get to the next round. 2-1 in the 87th minute.
You can almost see it happening right in front of you. The lone ball bounces of Mellor’s head across the pitch. Gerrard takes one step. Four black shirts take up positions to block a possible shot. Gerrard takes another step, anchoring himself with one foot as he prepares to shoot with the other. The goalkeeper’s knees buckle, he’s ready to dive. 25 yards from goal. 3 minutes from defeat. One impossible chance. Make us dream, Anfield had chanted. And their golden boy had done just that.
“Lovely cushioned header from Mellor to Gerrraaaaard! Ohhhhh you beauty, what a hit, son, what a hit!”
Or go back to the FA Cup Final against West Ham. Liverpool were 3-2 down, thanks to uncharacteristic errors from Carragher and Pepe Reina. West Ham had stood strong and firm, repelling every Liverpool attack that came their way. It was on the verge of additional time when Gerrard found himself in sight of goal 35 yards out, courtesy of a tired West Ham clearance. Gerrard needed no further invitation as he pummelled the ball, watching it as it drilled past the helpless West Ham defence and veered past the hapless hands of Shaka Hislop to meet the back of the net. Liverpool would go on to win through penalties, but the headlines belonged to Gerrard, Liverpool’s local lad who dared to dream.
And let’s not even get started on Istanbul.
However, Gerrard’s greatest strength as a captain was not his finesse that found the back of the net from the most improbable of angles, or his dexterity that won Liverpool games in the bleakest of circumstances. Gerrard’s greatest strength as Liverpool captain was his leadership. It was his ability to motivate the most mediocre of teams into giving their most outstanding performances. The captain of a club in transition, surrounded by players who struggled to meet the expectations of the fans or the technical prowess of the other top six teams, Gerrard brought the best out of a team that was mediocre at best. Xabi Alonso and Mascherano left Anfield Road for sunny Spain. Carragher retired. Agger went back to his boyhood club. Torres departed in the most dramatic of transfer sagas. Gerrard stayed. And Gerrard fought for his team. And he made everyone dream. Again. And again. And again.
Consider the Luiz Suarez situation in the summer of 2013. Suarez wanted to move to Arsenal. Brendan Rodgers was at his wits’ end, as was the management. Arsene Wenger had made a cheeky bid of forty million and one pounds, and things had reached an impasse, both parties refusing to budge. Relegated to the sidelines, Suarez was training all by himself when the Liverpool captain had a heart to heart with the petulant Uruguayan.
“We qualified for the UEFA Europa League but the season ended badly. I’m about to go to Arsenal, forcing myself to go, and Steven tells me, ‘I promise that if you stay this year you’re going to take off and next year you’ll go to Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid or whichever one you want – but stay this year because you won’t be better off at Arsenal’.
This was the last conversation I had with Gerrard at that moment and I told my agent that I’d made my decision and I was staying. His words convinced me at that moment. They came from a person who cared for me, who wanted my well-being, who saw me suffer during training and saw me sad. They were words from a true captain that had an impact at that moment and helped me a lot.”
Suarez would call his agent and tell him he wanted to stay, and the 2013-14 season would become the stuff of folklore. Most of the time, captaincy is less to do with what you do on the pitch than off it. Dirk Kuyt called him his favourite teammate. Fernando Torres said the Liverpool captain made him a better player. Luis Suarez likened him to a brother in a glowing tribute. Ask anybody in the current Liverpool side how Gerrard influenced their style of play, and they’d go on and on about their club legend.
“I don’t need to tell you how much Stevie meant to the lads in our side – especially the local ones like me. I can’t even count how many times my brothers and I pretended to be him when we were out at the park. To have him on the training pitch with us, it was really a dream come true.” – Trent Alexander-Arnold
To say the KOP loved Gerrard would be an understatement. He was their go-to person in the club. He was their voice. He has been more than just a player. He has been the embodiment of the club. Steven Gerrard was many things for Liverpool. Part-captain. Part-spokesman. Part-social worker, Part-therapist. Part-ambassador. Part-institution. Each part summing up to a whole that embodies the hopes and dreams of every Liverpool fan, player, coach and executive alike. Even today, look out to the KOP end where the banners fly high, and you’ll notice at least a couple featuring Steven Gerrard, waving in sync to the Anfield anthem.
“When I die, don’t bring me to the hospital. Bring me to Anfield. I was born there and will die there.” A tad overdramatic, perhaps. But it is honest. And it is scouse.
It is undeniable, however, that Gerrard’s legacy at Liverpool was far from flawless, especially towards the end of his tenure. His final seasons were marred by injuries. He was spending more time on the bench than ever before. In his final game against Manchester United, he would be gone in sixty seconds, getting a second yellow for a cynical tackle on Lingard. His final game at Anfield was a 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, his legs failing his razor-sharp vision as they had throughout that particular season. His final goal in red would be a consolation goal in a disastrous display of mediocrity, as Liverpool slumped 6-1 to a rampant Stoke City. However, Gerrard’s legacy should not be limited by the fact that he led Liverpool through a period of mediocrity. In fact, his legacy is defined by the fact that despite the period of mediocrity, Anfield still believed that they could defy the odds.
Steven Gerrard’s story with the club is far from over. His achievements in Scotland have not gone unnoticed. Even as I write this Odyssey of a tribute, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers is on top of the Scottish Premier League with an advantage of two points, having played eight games.
“If you ask who should follow me, I’d say Stevie.”- Klopp on who Liverpool could replace him with.
Will Steven Gerrard lead Liverpool again, albeit in a different role? Will the Kop faithful sing songs about Steven Gerrard, their captain, leader, legend and manager? What lies ahead for Liverpool’s favourite son?
But that’s a tale for another day.
Because today, it’s all about Steven Gerrard, Captain of Liverpool FC. It’s all about Steven Gerrard, the press’ Captain Fantastic. It’s all about Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s number eight. It’s all about Steven Gerrard, Anfield’s Captain Infinity.
Steven Gerrard is Liverpool. Liverpool is Steven Gerrard.
Written by Ganapathi Ramanathan
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more original features, Player Profiles and tactical analysis on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support!