Football is a game played by 22 individuals. True that. But ironically, it is opined and commented on by billions. Everyone has a favourite, and I am no different.
Well for me, midfielders are my main men.
They are the lifeline of the team, much like all-rounders in cricket; defending when the situation demands, instigating attacks with meticulous passes for the forwards to score and at times, scoring one themselves.
On occasions, they are graciously content in simply commanding the field.
When we talk about midfielders, certain G.O.A.Ts immediately spring to mind, the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luís Figo, Xavier Hernández and Andrea Pirlo to name a few.
If we talk about English football, in particular, a certain David Beckham crosses our thoughts and a contemporary of his for some years in the early 2000s, Steven George Gerrard – the talismanic Liverpool midfielder.
Loyalty in his blood
If loyalty was to be personified, Steven Gerrard would perfectly fit the bill. A veteran of a massive 17 seasons at Liverpool, he gave his all for the club.
Anfield was where he started his footballing career in 1998 and grew through the ranks to become their captain in just five years.
Not just that, he went on to captain England as well, such was his presence on the field and off it.
The cherry on the cake for Gerrard’s footballing career was in 2009, when France legend Zinedine Zidane, in an interview with The Guardian, considered him to be the best footballer ever.
Miracle of Istanbul
My love for Liverpool and Steven Gerrard started, thanks to this miracle.
In the 2004-05 season, there were rumours doing the rounds of a possible move to Chelsea for Gerrard, who was struggling with his foot injury and slump in form.
Liverpool had a tough route to the Champions League final in 2005, beating Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea in the knockout rounds and finishing only second to Monaco in the group stages.
In the final, the Reds were pitted against possibly the best club side at the time, A.C. Milan.
As history has it, Liverpool were 3 nil down at half-time, with Italian captain charismatic Paolo Maldini opening the scoring and Argentine forward Hernan Crespo netting a brace soon afterwards.
The commentators, footballing pundits and bookies alike had all but written the Merseyside giants off for a turnaround, albeit only a certain contingent in the stands, the Liverpool faithful, who sang the famous ‘You will never walk alone’ song, hoping for a miracle in the second half.
And boy! Did the miracle happen, thanks to none other than the gritty captain who never gave up – Mr Steven Gerrard.
He lofted a header past the Milan goalkeeper Dida to score Liverpool’s first.
This was followed by two more from Czech star Vladimir Smicer and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, with the score reading 3-3 at the end of normal time as well as extra-time.
No Liverpool fan can ever forget what happened after that as the Reds eventually won that game 3-2 on penalties to lift their fifth Champions League title. Man, was I thrilled!
Post that game, Gerrard in an interview with the Liverpool Echo said, ‘How can I leave after a night like this?’ and negotiations soon stalled with Chelsea.
Gerrard had committed his future to Liverpool.
One of Liverpool’s finest
· 710 appearances in total for Liverpool, with 473 of them as captain. Need I say he holds the record for most caps as Liverpool captain.
· Top Liverpool scorer in the Champions league with 30 goals. 186 goals across all competitions for the Reds.
· Winner of the FA Cup, Champions League, Community shield, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup
· FA England Player of the Year Award: 2007, 2012
· Liverpool Player of the Season: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009
The only regret was the elusive Premier League title, and under Steven Gerrard’s captaincy, Liverpool were agonizingly close in the 2013-14 season, only to drop the ball with a 2-0 loss to Chelsea, with the title no longer in their hands.
The Reds finally finished second that season, much like they did in the 2008-09 campaign after a serious title push.
At the end of the following season, the man finally left Liverpool to play for MLS outfit LA Galaxy, with the Englishman announcing his retirement from professional football in November 2016.
As one would know, some people can’t have enough of this beautiful game even after retiring.
Steven Gerrard was one of them as he first became a youth coach at Liverpool before becoming the manager of Scottish Premiership club Rangers in the summer of 2018.
He holds a decent win percentage of 60 north of the border, with 68 victories from 113 games at the Ibrox club. The Liverpool legend is a success story both on and off the field.
Steven Gerrard’s international career
With such a flourishing club career at Liverpool, how could his English career be any different!
Steven Gerrard made his senior England debut against Ukraine in 2000 and scored his first international goal in a 5-1 thrashing of Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier.
However, he had to wait four more years to taste his first World Cup experience, which came in 2006 in Germany. Gerrard scored twice in the tournament, one each against Trinidad and Tobago and Sweden.
Captaincy was a natural trait for Gerrard, and it wasn’t long before he was made the national captain in 2010. He led the team in two major tournaments – Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Gerrard appeared 114 times for his country, making him England’s fourth-highest capped player. Despite being a midfielder, he scored a whopping 21 goals for the Three Lions – no mean feat. Not to mention how he commanded the field too.
Jordan Henderson, one of Steven Gerrard’s contemporaries in his latter playing days, and the current captain of Liverpool, in an interview with Vavel said:
“Steven Gerrard is probably the best player this country has ever seen – not only as a player but also as a leader and a captain.” Jordan Henderson
An inspiration to fellow players and fans
Records apart, Steven Gerrard was truly an inspiration for the Reds and England alike, and he epitomized the ‘You will never walk alone’ song by always having Liverpool’s back.
On a personal note, in 2006, when I boarded the bus for my Post Graduation Programme, the first question I asked when I met my fellow batch mates was ‘Any Steven Gerrard fans?’