Steven Gerrard: a tribute
There are two kinds of footballers. Ones that are compared with the greats of the previous eras, and the ones that will eventually be used to be compared to with players in the future. Steven Gerrard fell into the first type in his early years and now falls in the second type. Not all players make that transition.
On the occasion of making six hundred appearances for Liverpool, his team mate Carragher mentioned that Gerrard is probably the second best England player ever, only after the legendary World Cup winning Bobby Charlton. Tall claims out of bias towards a friend? I would say no. He is by far not only the greatest English footballer of his generation (Gascoigne and Rooney come close, but not close enough), but probably one of the true greats of the modern game as well. I’m saying that not just because of that night at Istanbul.
Just look back at the last fifteen years a little more carefully and probably, Jamie Carragher’s statement will deserve more merit. Six hundred appearances for a top club, ten years of them as a Captain, is no mean feat.
The constant argument which arises when Gerrard’s greatness as a player is pointed out is his lack of success in winning trophies. Yes, he would definitely have won more elsewhere with any of the other major clubs, but that alone is not a parameter for defining greatness. Now let’s just consider the facts for a minute. Eleven trophies with Liverpool (Yes! Liverpool have won that many in the past ten years!), three European finals, seven times in the PFA team of the year, thrice in the Champion’s League’s team of the year. That alone does not reveal the full story. He dragged Liverpool to two European finals single handedly. Now sinks in doesn’t it? He is the player who both Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho coveted. And of course he turned them down (twice in Mourinho’s case). He has captured the imagination of a generation of football fans and inspired scores of fellow footballers.
The constant argument against him is that he has failed for England. Actually it’s the other way around. Series of England managers have failed him, played him out of his best positions in order to accommodate other big name players. Yet, he has been the standout player in England’s last two major tournaments. He was in the 2012 European Championship’s all-star team despite getting eliminated early. In other words, the other big names have let him down when it comes to national duties. Throughout his career he has led from the front a somewhat mediocre club and country teams. He did not have the luxury of players like Rush, Hansen or Barnes who made the Liverpool of yesteryear so formidable. Any other generation, he would have won more on both fronts.
Let’s talk more about Gerrard the player. He is the most complete player the game has seen in the last two decades. Energy, drive, set-piece ability, passing, finishing he has got it all. He has developed his defensive game along the years and is now putting in a wonderful, yet under-appreciated shift in a more reserved and a less eye-catching role. His reading of the game is also at the top level. Maybe, with better names around him at Liverpool he would have developed further has an attacking midfielder. Not all players have the combination of these abilities, let alone to this extent.
The true greatness of a player is defined by his ability to carry the team on his shoulders, and still deliver consistently at the highest levels. Which is what captain fantastic has been doing all these years. A feat that requires complete dedication and discipline. Probably all this will be recognized once he hangs up his boots. A true vacuum in the English game would arise then, which would be very difficult to fill.