Ian Rush in 1983. Robbie Fowler in 1995 and 1996. Michael Owen in 1998. They were the only previous Liverpool winners before Steven Gerrard lifted the PFA Young Player of the Year gong in 2001.
Within the next three weeks, the FA Cup, then the UEFA Cup and finally a third-placed Premiership finish – which secured Champions League football in 2001/02 – would be sealed.
With the League Cup already won in February, that completed the unique, hard-earned treble for Gérard Houllier’s men.
Gerrard was far from finished in the wider sense, too, of course.
The then-No.17 was also named in the PFA Team of the Year alongside the likes of Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Ryan Giggs and Thierry Henry.
It was the first of eight times that he would be included in that lineup – a record in the Premier League era – while he would also be named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2005, PFA Player of the Year in 2006 and The Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 2009.
He may have had 44 appearances for the Reds under his belt prior to this campaign, but 2000/01 – where he made a further 50 – felt like a genuine foundation and an establishment, in so many ways, for the future captain.
He took his goal tally for the club from one to 11 and his total assists from three to nine, as well.
Come his 2015 departure, those appearances would total 710, the goals would stand at 186, and assists would come to 144.
Those foundations must have been strong.
2004/05 and beyond can often feel like Gerrard’s most influential, bookmark-worthy campaigns – but this earlier term’s value mustn’t be underestimated.
It is an interesting one to look back on. This was a slightly different Gerrard. Not necessarily the perennial, trademark, leading light and primary driving force of the team version.
This Gerrard was younger. Rawer. Perhaps even more enthusiastic. Still learning from the dressing room more often than he was leading it.Embed from Getty Images
He was an exciting, flexible, cog in Houllier’s increasingly well-oiled, modernised, Liverpool machine.
Every so often, of course, he was more than that. There were more than enough signs of things to come.
A quick look over his 10 goals in that season reflect that.
There are four belters from outside the box, there are late runs into the area followed by ruthless finishes and, to round them off, a goal in a final.
His strike in the Dortmund UEFA Cup showpiece – where Spanish side Aláves were eventually beaten 5-4 – was the first of five he would score on such occasions.Embed from Getty Images
He remains the only player to have scored in a UEFA Cup, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup final. That habit of standing up when it mattered was, evidently, already present.
That he played so many games was evidence of both the trust that Houllier already had in him and that he was developing the ability to deal with the kind of intense, three-games-a-week schedule that top-level football provides.
Having often played at right-back during his first couple of seasons in the first team, Gerrard was often deployed on the right side of midfield during this campaign, as that broad range of traits became increasingly clear.
His range of passing, dynamism, ball-striking and sheer desire meant he it already felt like he could be a pacy wide midfielder one week, a deep-lying playmaker the next and a box-to-box all-rounder the one after that.
He seemed to have more than a bit of everything – and that doubtless encouraged Houllier to include him with such regularity. Wherever he went, he would offer something.
Standout moments – like the piercing drive against Arsenal in December, the 35-yard howitzer against Southampton on New Year’s Day and the 30-yard scorcher against Manchester United in March – leap off the page but, arguably, they simply represent peaks in performances that were becoming more rounded, consistent and authoritative by the week.
This was a player who would do so much more and lead so many Liverpool sides of varying capabilities to admirable heights in the years to come.
This Gerrard, though – who still stood out, who still led, who still took the breath away, but was newer and somehow wilder and more surprising by his impact – now feels almost even more exciting and satisfying a watch.Embed from Getty Images
Safe in the knowledge of what he would go on to do, looking back on his early sprouts of brilliance enhancing an already excellent side around him is different – and pleasing.
He feels so Liverpool, at times, that it is perhaps still too easy to take him for granted.
We were so lucky to have Gerrard, the footballer.
That range of traits and achievements remains rare, brilliant and relevant.
That the PFA prize of 20 years ago remains significant is a measure of his efforts both before and after receiving it.
Appearance, goals and assists statistics from lfchistory.net.
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