In Liverpool history, the post-war years have been dubbed the era of “Liddelpool” after their legendary player Billy Liddel. Were his name more convenient for spinners of puns, the years since the millennium would be similarly named after Steven Gerrard. The twenty-first century for Liverpool FC has been defined by “Stevie G” and, likewise, he by them. He has almost single-handedly gifted them their triumphs and has likewise been hindered by their limitations. But that is both the asterisk against and the case for his legacy. Gerrard could have gone elsewhere and yet chose not to. He stood by Liverpool even to the detriment of his own medal collection, and as a result, he will die an Anfield great.
Many would mark the key date in Gerrard’s career to be the famous comeback against AC Milan in the Champions’ League final on May 25 2005. It wasn’t, it was just over a month later as he performed a last-minute U-turn in his negotiations over a move to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. By this stage, Gerrard was already recognized as one of Europe’s best midfielders. After making his way through the Liverpool youth systems and Gerrard was an established presence for both club and country within a few years. He had been a key member of the club’s 2001 cup treble and runners-up league finish in 2002. Gerrard’s absence from England’s 2002 World Cup squad through injury is often brought up as a factor in the side’s quarter-final exit to Brazil that year. Of course, this is the England national side that would likely cite Nicky Barmby’s omission as an excuse for failure in the event of Gerrard making the plane.
Over the next few seasons, Liverpool failed to compete for the title despite a change in manager. The exceptional progress of Gerrard however as well as his obvious connection to the supporters saw the midfielder made captain to no-one’s surprise. Against all odds, he led the club to their fifth European Cup in 2005. As Liverpool’s obvious star, he was subject to a £32million bid and very nearly left but his decision not to gives an indication of Gerrard’s character. Almost certainly he would have finally won the league championship at Chelsea, but in all likelihood, he realized that wasn’t the point. Bringing a dozen titles to Stamford Bridge amongst a team of highly expensive stars would have been cheap. Ending Liverpool’s long journey back to the top was a goal with real merit. Sadly it wasn’t to be.
That’s not to say there wasn’t success for Gerrard. A one-man show in the 2006 FA Cup final preceded a near-miss in the 2007 Champions’ League. And twice in the coming years did Liverpool legitimately challenge for the title. The first came in 2009 as Gerrard played as No.10 behind Fernando Torres, a position which benefitted his mercurial yet ill-disciplined talent better than the centre-midfield berth. The second came as an elder statesman in 2013/14 as a Luis Suarez-led Liverpool just fell short. At national level, Gerrard won over 100 caps and the captain’s armband. But for some reason, the golden generation of English football which he belonged to failed to generate results on a major stage. Another what-could-have-been story…
But these failures only add to the romance of Gerrard’s career. An exhilarating player to watch, the fact Gerrard devoted all his energy and talent to Liverpool has made him an unquestionable face on Liverpool’s Mount Rushmore. Fans at Anfield will not look upon the 21st century as Liverpool’s most successful era but it was the era which allowed them to watch one of their own prove his talent to the world.