The Steven Gerrard swansong and 10 years of Istanbul
When Anthony Taylor blew the final whistle at the Brittania Stadium yesterday, one man breathed a sigh of resigned, yet mixed relief. Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career had culminated, trapped deep inside the tentacles of Murphy’s Law.
Knocked out of the Europa League, partly by the man who punished him for that ill-fated slip at the Bridge last season; seeing red within a minute upon introduction against those rivals from Yorkshire he so despised; knocked out of the FA Cup by the annoyingly outspoken Tim Sherwood; denied a fitting Anfield farewell due to a combination of Dejan Lovren’s incompetence, Simon Mignolet’s daftness and Yannick Bolasie’s brilliance; and finally, being belted black and blue by the Potters on his last occasion in that hallowed shirt.
However, it all began with that innocuous display at the St. Jakob Park earlier in the season – a deserved defeat to Basel that night triggered a string of unimpressive and dispiriting results, seeing the club bow out at the group stages of the Champions League, in spite of one man trying all he could. When Steven Gerrard placed the ball above the wall and past the flailing Yann Sommer with customary ease on a chilly Anfield night a few weeks later, he dared to dream and so did we; for this was the great man’s favourite playground. Yet, all the positive vibes of deja vu couldn’t salvage a result for the team, and Liverpool FC had been knocked out of the competition they take pride in excelling at.
For European excellence is what the team achieved during the Benitez era a few years ago. And it all started with that trademark swing of the right foot from the Ironside native – a swing that had all the hope, power and conviction he could muster. Fast forward a second and delirious scenes followed, punctuated by Andy Gray crying “Ohh, you beautyy!! What a hit, son! What a hit!”. The journey to Istanbul, a city steeped in history and obsessed with football like no other, began in earnest that night, with that kick of the ball from Steven Gerrard.
But, reminiscing about that night can wait. For yesterday, one of the greatest players of our generation bade farewell, seeking pastures anew in a land where the game is still crippled by a lack of popular interest. And, he’ll be joined by another icon of the English game on his way out of the Old Blighty and into the American Dream. Frank Lampard, in complete contrast, got the farewell he deserved – scoring a goal with typical aplomb on his last match in the Isles.
Gerrard is one of the few loyal servants left in the game
But, while the likes of Lampard and Xavi Hernandez, who has joined the Qatar bandwagon alongside Raul, Michael Laudrup and others, get the bouquets at the end of highly decorated careers, Steven Gerrard gets the occasional brickbat, ridiculed for the absence of a Premier League winner’s medal in his resume.
And that, sadly, is what our world has come to. Loyalty has become more of an old-fashioned punchline today. Gone are the days when it was the norm, but it isn’t even a rarity anymore; it’s worse. Except for an incredibly talented class of footballers at the Allianz Arena and the likes of John Terry, players who stay true to their crest and fans, are an extinct breed. While there’s nothing wrong with chasing silverware and craving for glory, it is imperative that we see the legends of the game who are synonymous with the colour of the shirt they wear, with the respect they deserve.
Matt Le Tissier for the Saints. Gabriel Batistuta for La Viola. Francesco Totti for the Giallorossi. Even Gigi Buffon, to an extent, for the Old Lady. These are all players who have sacrificed a great amount of personal glory and stayed where their hearts belonged. Such is/was their calibre that we can easily envisage the likes of Batigol leading the line for AC Milan or Totti plying his trade for say, Real Madrid.
Steven Gerrard, on the same vein, is a player who could’ve tasted a lot of success had he moved on, or rather, moved up the ladder. But, he didn’t. Not during the 2005 contract saga, when Jose Mourinho came calling. Not in the summer of 2009, when Xabi Alonso left for the Bernabeu and Javier Mascherano left for the Camp Nou. Not when the owners, manager and players of Liverpool Football Club failed him, year after year, season after season. He had plenty of chances to move to other clubs, but stayed put and won hearts.
Steven Gerrard, to quote the great man himself “bled Liverpool red”. He could shake the Kop into wild, wild frenzy like nobody else. He could come out with a lifeline and hammer it into the back of the net, out of nowhere. He could tackle with the ferocity of a pit bull and lead with the grace of a gazelle. And he could run up and down, left and right, sweating buckets on the way. Most importantly though, he could pick an entire team off the mat, lift them up and show them the tunnel. And with Liverpool FC being the enigma that it is, even that wasn’t enough at times. He wasn’t flustered, however, as he would run that spent engine till it dropped dead, and drag the team across the finish line. Steven Gerrard did not know how to give up.
Miracle of Istanbul
And nothing epitomised this more than that fiery night at the Ataturk Stadium ten years ago. Facing probably the team to ever hit the pitch, at least on paper, the Reds, a team that many claimed were there by chance, more than anything else, were torn asunder in a first half, that saw the genius of Ricardo Kaka shine through. The Kopites aren’t ordinary football fans though. They sang their throats out at half time when UEFA had all but started inscribing “AC Milan” into the Ol’Big Ears.
And just as the epithets had started flowing and the coffin was about to be lowered, Steven Gerrard leapt; literally, metaphorically and emphatically. As Dida was beaten, millions started hoping against hope. The captain had done it again. Hope had become Liverpool’s 12th man.
What followed is the stuff of legend, and has been more than well-documented. And when Andriy Shevchenko saw his penalty being saved by Jerzy “Grobbelaar-incarnate” Dudek, history had been written. Liverpool had come back from the dead. No, Liverpool had been dead, buried and consigned to the dust, and they still found a way up. And, Steven Gerrard was at the helm of the most famous comeback the beautiful game has ever seen.
This was neither the first nor the last time that Steven Gerrard had shown his impeccable sense of timing. On occasions before and occasions after, he showed that when the going got tough, he got going. The 2006 FA Cup final, the hat-trick against Manchester United, the famous night at Anfield against Real Madrid, last season’s superhuman performance against City – here was a man who could be counted upon when needed. Always.
And exactly 10 years later, the Liverbird has bid adieu to her favourite son. And when he drives across the tall redwood trees and that famous Hollywood sign into Los Angeles, where he’ll play the game from now on, Steven Gerrard can be secure in the knowledge that he’s given absolutely everything for the club he joined as a bright-eyed kid. And, a few bad games won’t ever tarnish the image of one of the modern-day greats of the game.
Till we see you again, Stevie. You’ll Never Walk Alone!