A tribute to a legend of the game
As an 17 year old massive Liverpool fan, the news about Steven Gerrard retiring today has brought up emotions of nostalgia, sadness, but also perfect bliss.
It was on 29th November 1998 that Gerrard made his Liverpool first team debut, and nobody ever looked back. I was only born 11 days later, so to now know that he will stop playing football completely is a strange feeling.
I went to watch the Reds once or twice in my early years, but not in games I can vividly remember. I don’t remember the treble-winning season of 2001, I don’t remember him being appointed captain in 2003, but he had an influence on how much I wanted to play football as a kid. I always wanted to play like Steven Gerrard.
What I do remember, however, like many Liverpool fans do, is the great Champions League triumph of 2005. This is my first real, vivid memory of Liverpool and in particular, Steven Gerrard, because I don’t think it matters how young you were, you simply don’t forget watching a game like that.
It really was a miracle. The entire campaign. It’s things like that season that lead me to believe the idea of ‘fate’ exists, as silly as it may seem. It started in the group stages, with Gerrard firing home an incredible late goal against Bayer Leverkusen to save Liverpool from an early exit from the competition. Then, when you skip ahead to the semi-final, Gerrard and his team managed to halt the mighty Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side, with a goal that surely shouldn’t have been allowed to stand.
And then the final. It is potentially the most famous football match of all time. The team Milan fielded that night was full of incredible players, and somehow, Liverpool took the glory that night despite being 3-0 down at half time. It was something so special, even a 6 year old such as myself at the time could comprehend its enormity.
It was a night that defined Steven Gerrard and truly showed his class. It was one of the greatest inspirational performances from a player I’ve ever seen, having watched the entire match several times since. From there, I can pretty much tell you anything you would care to know about Gerrard’s career.
Yes, it wasn’t the most trophy-glittered it could’ve been, he should’ve won many more medals with Liverpool, but what’s important is that he didn’t abandon us and follow the money in order to gain those medals. I’m glad he was ever present, and I think he is, too. Although, I reckon he’d have loved to play under Jurgen Klopp for his final couple of years in the Premier League.
The next big acheievement was the FA Cup triumph in 2006, branded ‘The Gerrard Final’. He fired home another famous goal to equalise in this one, a goal that still amazes me over 10 years later.
It’s ridiculous how far out he is, just sheer lunacy that he managed to score from there. But he did, and we won the cup, and it was another famous victory for Steven Gerrard.
After this, Gerrard entered a phase of 4 or 5 years where he was at his absolute best for me. From 2006 until 2010, when Rafa Benitez was sacked, Gerrard formed a deadly partnership with Fernando Torres. The Spaniard signed for Liverpool in 2007, and these two, also combined with Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina, was probably the best Liverpool team I’ve seen play. We should have won the Premier League at least once in this period.
We came close in 2009, but the power and dominance of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United denied Gerrard the chance to pick up a medal. It’s a credit to United that they could still win the league so consistently when Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all had fantastic players and managers during this period (and that’s a ‘fact’, Rafa.), but they did, and it wasn’t to be for Gerrard.
Rafa was sacked, and suddenly we went from the best Liverpool team I’ve watched, to the worst, in the space of 2 years. Alonso, Mascherano and Torres were all sold, and suddenly Liverpool were a mid-table side, no where near the Champions League places, nevermind winning the league.
Roy Hodgson came and went, as did Kenny Dalglish, along with a handful of mediocre players who played alongside Gerrard in the team. Andy Carroll, Joe Cole, Milan Jovacic and Christian Poulson are all examples that spring to mind without even thinking. We won the League Cup in 2012 under Dalglish, which would prove to be Gerrard’s last trophy of his career, which sums up the disappointment when it comes to the amount of medals he’s won.
Then arrived Brendan Rodgers, who signed Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea and Phillippe Coutinho from Inter Milan, and brought Raheem Sterling through to the first team from the youth system. It was a mixed bag in his first 2012/13 season, and Gerrard took a blow as his long-term teammate Jamie Carragher retired at the end of that season.
And so Gerrard was left on his own at the beginning of the 2013/14 season, the only surviving member of the team that won the Champions League in Istanbul 8 years prior, and this season would be the closest he would come to ever lifting the Premier League.
Depending on your angle and feelings about Steven Gerrard, the story of the 2013/14 season is either a heartbreaking, or hilarious one. I’m in disbelief about how we managed to let the league slip (no pun intended) out of our grasp that season. Stevie probably is too. But it happened, and it was that fatal error against Chelsea for Gerrard that cost us the trophy.
In the bigger picture, you can always argue that previous results had been our downfall, and if we’d just done a little bit better in earlier games the Gerrard slip would’ve been less crucial. This is true. We had lost at home to Southampton, drew at home to Villa and away to West Brom (thanks to a Kolo Toure error), and our defence had been leaky all season. But it doesn’t mask how crushing that slip and result against Chelsea was for all Liverpool fans. I can never begin to comprehend how Gerrard himself felt, and how he felt again when the team collapsed away at Crystal Palace the week after, letting a 3-0 lead slip (I did it again, sorry Stevie) at Selhurst Park.
In my opinion, Gerrard was always close to getting what he deserved, but somehow, life always went against him. Since the slip, he just had a terrible couple of years in his final seasons as a player. In the summer of 2014, he travelled to Brazil for the World Cup with England, where the national team once again disappointed on the world stage. He was benched for Liverpool in arguably their biggest game of the season, a Champions League fixture vs Real Madrid. He was sent off just 40 seconds into his final Liverpool vs Manchester United fixture. And his career at Anfield suffered an ugly end, with a 6-1 loss away at Stoke in his final ever game.
We all know his career in the US hasn’t been majorly successful, so for me, it was the correct decision for the guy to bring his playing career to a stop now. It feels like I’ve talked a lot about the down sides to Steven Gerrard’s career, but it isn’t like that at all.
Gerrard was a true childhood hero of mine, and I wouldn’t want to have admired anyone else growing up. He put in some magnificent performances, scored some astonishing goals. He was the ultimate big-game player, and no one could fault his passion and loyalty for Liverpool Football Club.
Thanks for the memories Stevie, it was an absolute honour to grow up watching you play. Good luck with whatever you choose to do next, and happy retirement to the ultimate Liverpool captain.
By Ben Kelly -@benkelly_10