By James Crump – @TheJamesCrump
Today we look at the distinguished career of a Liverpool icon on his birthday, one who redefined the club in the modern football era – Steven Gerrard.
Born in Whiston, Merseyside, the former captain joined the Liverpool academy at just nine-years-old. He played for the Liverpool first team from 1998 until 2015, where age and playing time forced him to move to LA Galaxy to finish his career.
Despite playing in an era where Liverpool rarely challenged in the league, Gerrard stayed faithful to the club. He flirted heavily with Chelsea in 2005, but in the end he was always a red. Signing his first professional contract with Liverpool at 17, Gerrard didn’t make his debut until over a year later. On November, 29, 1998, he made a brief cameo against Blackburn Rovers to officially start his career.
Gerrard played in a number of positions in his early years at the club. Although centre midfield was seen as his future, he played right back (more on that later) often, and right wing. As time went by, he became a fixture in the team, quickly becoming vice-captain by 2002.
He scored his first goal for Liverpool against Sheffield Wednesday, in a 4-1 thrashing. Gerrard skipped past one, then two defenders before sliding the ball perfectly in to the bottom left-hand corner. It was one of 120 special goals for the club.
After being a Liverpool and England regular for a number of years, Gerrard became captain of his club in 2004. His leadership was clear to see, and he thrived under the responsibility. This was most apparent between 2004 and 2006.
At no point during the 2004/05 Champions League season were Liverpool expected to win the competition. The squad lacked depth and the first XI was far from complete. Liverpool even looked to be going out at the group stage.They needed one more goal to go through, but Olympiakos had frustrated them all night.
In the 86th minute, a young Neil Mellor headed the ball in Gerrard’s direction. Although bouncing, he struck the ball beautifully, putting it in the corner beyond the keepers reach. The campaign was still alive, and it was all down to our captain.
The heroics continued in the final. You all know the story of the comeback against AC Milan and how it was one of Europe’s and Liverpool’s best ever matches. Gerrard relived the the pain of his youth, being moved to right-back in the second half to counteract Milan’s tactical switch. This time though, he didn’t struggle out of position, but instead excelled nullifying any threat down the Milan left, whilst spraying the ball around the pitch in now, classic Stevie fashion.
Gerrard scored the first goal of the comeback with a brilliant header, and was the catalyst for the performance in the second half. He was the heart and soul of the team, and the comeback would have been impossible without him.
His heroics would be repeated a year later, when the FA Cup final that became known as, “The Gerrard final” was played. The Champions League winner was man of the match that day, and it is impossible to make an argument against that decision.
This was another comeback again from Liverpool, battling back from being 2-0 down. They got back to 2-2, but were 3-2 down as the match went into added time. Of course, it was Gerrard who got the equaliser to take the game into extra-time and penalties, with Liverpool ending victorious.
Gerrard got the assist for the first Liverpool goal, with a sumptuous ball over the top, and scored two goals, both of which were half volleys. The first was an incredible finish. The ball was knocked down by Peter Crouch and the number eight steamed into the box, striking the ball from the penalty spot into the top corner. The technique was immaculate, but the power underlined his performance that day.
As the match reached its end, the impact of his full throttle performance showed. Gerrard could hardly walk, making his equaliser even more remarkable. From 35 yards out and with the ball bouncing, he hit a thunderous half volley, giving Shaka Hislop in the West Ham Goal no chance. It was an impossible goal, but says everything there is to say about Gerrard and his determination, belief and talent.
These two finals and performances are what I remember most when I think about Steven Gerrard. Despite limited success and fluctuating club finances, the skipper stayed at the club until it was the proper time to move on. Neither of those finals would have been won without him, and the club wouldn’t be the same without him playing for us for so long. He is the definition of a legend and a truly special talent.
Gerrard ended his career with Liverpool with two FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup and one Champions League. He might not have won the Premier League, but most would kill for those medals. He won the PFA Player of the Year in 2005, and had the honour of being both Liverpool and England captain. We had the honour of watching him play for Liverpool for 17 years.