Steven Gerrard: the last in a dying breed?
As Steven Gerrard stepped off the pitch at Anfield last Saturday night, the congregation gathered stood to a man to worship their talisman, the one-club hero who may well go down in folklore in Liverpool as the best they ever had. But why? What is it about the man that sets him apart from Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan or Ian Rush?
Gerrard signed on at Liverpool as an 8-year-old and moves to LA Galaxy in July, twenty seven years later, having only ever donned the beloved red shirt in his career. He has won every major club honour bar the Premier League, including the Champions League on that career defining performance against AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005. As a result of that night, Gerrard was honoured as the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or Bronze Award. To date he is still the last English player to be nominated for the award. He has been named in the PFA Team of the Year a record eight times. He also holds the record as the only footballer ever to have scored a goal in an FA Cup Final, a League Cup Final, a UEFA Cup Final and a Champions League Final.
But let’s look at the facts, to see how he stacks up against other great Liverpool heroes.
In performances for Liverpool, Gerrard is beaten by Ian Callaghan (857), a man equally as exceptional in his performances for the Reds, and Jamie Caragher (737).
In goals, although he is beaten by Ian Rush (346), Roger Hunt (285), Gordon Hodgson (241) and Billy Liddell (228), he is the leading midfielder in 5th with 185 goals, having overtaken Kenny Dalglish this season.
But it is in the non-statistical areas that Gerrard becomes a cult figure. It is almost impossible for me to compare the talent of Rush, Keegan, Dalglish, Hunt, Liddell & Gerrard. It is pretty futile, they were all truly great players, all with outrageous talent, endless commitment and loyalty to Liverpool. But only Liddell was a one club man, and he made his debut in the 1930’s.
It is here that Gerrard sets himself apart from other great players. He has never been in football for the fame, or the money (although I am sure he has earned plenty during his career). It is the love of his one and only club, Liverpool, that drives him on. And that is rare. So rare, in fact, that there are only two other current players in England who are also one club men. And without wishing to insult Dean Lewington of MK Dons or Tony Hibbert of Everton, neither are in the class of Steven Gerrard. Indeed, in the world, the only other one club men, still playing, who equal Gerrard for class are Iker Casillas, who has been at Real Madrid since he was a boy and Xavi at Barcelona.
It is no secret that Jose Mourinho wanted Gerrard at Chelsea and you can be sure the carrots were dangled, dripping in Russian money, but Gerrard said no. It is almost unthinkable that, in the future, a player of Gerrard’s talent will ever stay at the club he signs on at for his whole career.
Oh how Tottenham fans must dream of the day in fifteen years time when they stand to salute Harry Kane, their record breaking, World Cup winning hero! But in all likelyhood he will move, whether it is justified by the money, the ambition to play Champions League football or because he suffers under another new manager at White Hart Lane, it is just a sign of the times that we live in, that loyalty is not a word in a footballer’s vocabulary.
I find it sad that a club of Liverpool’s history and standing did not recognise that this great servant deserved to see out his days at his only club. They should have bent over themselves to extend his contract. Had they started early enough, he would have signed, he has said so himself. But the club he has been endlessly loyal to, decided not to repay that loyalty.
How much better the world of football would be if that was a defining motive in all transfers! As if to prove my point for me, Stevie G was asked by a fan to sign an LA Galaxy shirt as he headed into the tunnel on Saturday after his last game in front of Liverpool fans. He declined saying “I won’t sign one of those until I’m over there.” Loyal to the last, goodbye Steven Gerrard, a good England captain, a Liverpool hero but above all, a great man.