Goodbye, Stevie G: Liverpool’s greatest ever player

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Football
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The outgoing midfielder is often compared to Kenny Dalglish and Billy Liddell when it comes to the best in the club’s history, but his achievements and dedication trump the lot

Among the multitude of tributes, it was hard to beat the wonderfully eloquent, particularly brief tweet from a World Cup, double Champions League and double European Championship winner. “My mate. My hero,” wrote Xabi Alonso when Steven Gerrard announced he was leaving Liverpool.

Others nevertheless tried to. Luis Suarez, the man Gerrard regards as his finest team-mate, branded the Liverpudlian a “legend”. Daniel Sturridge, who may succeed him as the face of the franchise, described Gerrard as Liverpool’s greatest player.

Sturridge is too young to have watched Kenny Dalglish play, let alone Billy Liddell, the third man often touted as Anfield’s most illustrious individual, but he has a point. Jamie Carragher, who has a deeper understanding of history, started making the same argument about five years ago. Then Dalglish was appointed manager and Carragher diplomatically changed the subject.

But, as far as Liverpool are concerned, the banner in the Kop during Saturday’s farewell against Crystal Palace rang true. “The best there is, the best there was and the best there will ever be,” it read.

And without risking predictions about the future, it is a safer assertion about the past. How good was Gerrard? He touched such heights that he was named PFA Player of the Year in 2005-06, when he played predominantly as a right-sided midfielder, and Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year in 2008-09, when he operated as a No. 10. Try finding other players who have been named the best in the country in two different roles that were not even their preferred position.

It shows an extraordinary versatility. Gerrard’s gifts, of pace and power, of an ability to pass the ball incisively over both long and short distances, of a capacity to unleash ferocious shots, of fierce tackling and of being able to raise his game on major occasions, equipped him to play almost anywhere.

How good was Gerrard? So good that he was the catalyst for probably the greatest comeback of all and the man of the match in arguably the most extraordinary Champions League final yet. Ten years on, his performance in Istanbul remains as astonishing as it was then, and not just because he spent extra-time in Turkey as a wing-back. It was his masterpiece, but far from the only example of an almost unrivalled habit of determining games virtually single-handedly. Think of Olympiakos, the 2006 FA Cup final, the 2007 and 2008 trips to Newcastle or the 2012 visit of Everton, when he scored Liverpool’s first Merseyside derby hat-trick for three decades. He was the biggest of big-game players. When he decimated Real Madrid and Manchester United in the space of a few days in 2009, Zinedine Zidane felt he was the finest footballer in the world.

Gerrard was a force of nature, a one-man whirlwind. At his very best, he seemed unstoppable. Some of the other defining players of his generation only proved their excellence alongside similarly distinguished talents. Gerrard did so without them. Michael Owen and Fernando Torres were both lesser forces when separated from Gerrard, a sign a footballer always aware of his own goal tally was invariably selfless when serving as a supplier on the pitch, but he could prosper with inferior colleagues. In the modern era, where talent has been concentrated at the top, surely no great player has had as many mediocre team-mates as Gerrard.

No Liverpool player has since Liddell, and he was at his most prolific in the old Division Two. Dalglish spent the majority of his Anfield career alongside others luminaries, such as Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and Alan Hansen. In the 21st century, the other elite players have come and gone; Gerrard has stayed.

Others have won more in the past but none has played a bigger part in successes, and not just because Gerrard is the only Englishman to have scored in the finals of the Champions League, the Uefa Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. As Carragher said on Saturday: “Without Steven Gerrard, I would not have a medal.”

Carragher can be called biased but that shows the scale of Gerrard’s contributions. He was that good. He shouldered that heavy a burden. He captained his hometown club for a dozen, often tumultuous years. John Terry has captained Chelsea for almost as long, but Liverpool’s trials and tribulations meant more responsibility rested with Gerrard; the gulf in class between him and some of his colleagues was larger.

Even in decline, even when deprived of dynamism, they turned to Gerrard in times of need. Even as his performances deteriorated, he threatened to conjure magical moments. He scored with a wonderful free kick against Basel that almost offered a Champions League lifeline. He had a header cleared off the line in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa. He raged at the dying of the light, trying to stamp his authority on the Manchester United game in March and succeeding only in stamping on Ander Herrera.

Greatness comes in part through longevity and loyalty and few have rejected as many chances to desert Liverpool as Gerrard, even when he allowed his head to be turned for a moment. It comes in part in the numbers and, with 185 goals in 709 games, Gerrard has scored more often than the strikers Torres and Suarez did between them and played more matches than Kevin Keegan and Souness’ combined tally. But it also comes through influence and Gerrard’s individual inspiration, his sense of drive and the blockbusting brilliance he displayed at his best propelled him into first place in the pantheon.

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Comments
  1. szuber10 says:

    good bye gerard….we will miss u 😦

    Like

  2. aariful012 says:

    the world will miss u Steven Gerrard. u will not playing for liverpool but liverpool fans can’t forget u.

    Like

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