Anfield is all that matters

May 17, 2015, 07:59 IST | Dileep Premachandran

Steven Gerrard may yet make one more appearance against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on the final weekend of the English Premier League season, but no one really cares about that

The 18-year-old kid with the crew cut that made two goal-line clearances in a Derby win. The 20-year-old who strode forward from central midfield to thump an unstoppable shot past Fabien Barthezin the Manchester United goal. The captain, who feared relegation to the UEFA Cup, smashing a half-volley into the Olympiakos net to ensure progress into the Champions League knockout stages and on to a famous night in Istanbul.

Special kiss at 'home': Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard kisses his daughter ahead of the epl match against Crystal Palace at Anfield in Liverpool on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images

The slip against Chelsea that almost certain cost Liverpool a league title last April. The rash challenge that saw the red card come out within a minute of entering the field as a substitute in his last appearance against United. The winning goal against Queen’s Park Rangers in front of an adoring Kop.

When Liverpool fans and neutrals alike look back on the Steven Gerrard era, there will be a kaleidoscope of memories.

On Saturday, it ended at Anfield. He may yet make one more appearance, against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on the final weekend of the season, but no one really cares about that. For a Liverpool legend saying his goodbyes, it’s always about Anfield. Always.

Those of us with grey creeping into the hair can remember the first steps, the excitement about the homegrown kid who might go on to great things. The first goal, a slalom-like run through the Sheffield Wednesday defence and a tidy finish, was memorable enough, but it was his strength and versatility that caught the eye early on.

On that famous night in Istanbul, Gerrard started in central midfield. After a shocking first half in which Kaka and Andrea Pirlo ran rings around Liverpool, he was the furthest forward when John Arne Riise sent in the cross-field ball that was to trigger one of the great comebacks in sport. In the very same game, he filled in at right-back as well. It was what made him a coach’s dream, and a nightmare as well.

With a Pirlo or Xavi, you knew exactly what you were going to get. With Gerrard, who could do so many things, staying in a tactical straitjacket seemed unnatural. His natural approach was the Roy of the Rovers way, seeking the ball at every opportunity even if that meant being dragged hopelessly out of position.

Of all the coaches he played under, Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers -- last season, when the side so nearly ended a quarter-century of pain -- got the best out of him. In an advanced midfield role, he thrived. It allowed him to get forward and score his share of goals, and also exposed defences to the pinpoint passes that premier forwards like Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez feasted on.

Beyond the figures
But far more than 709 games, 185 goals, two European trophies and an FA Cup win that he delivered almost-single-handed, what Gerrard meant to Liverpool was hope. When he joined the club as a trainee, the team was still the best in the land. As the aura faded over the next decade, it was to Gerrard and Michael Owen that fans looked. Owen, from an Everton-supporting family and seemingly more serious about England than Liverpool, was always viewed a little suspiciously. Gerrard, despite the flirtations with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, was adored, though the longed-for title proved as elusive as it had in his teenage years.

The medal haul, or the absence of one in particular, doesn’t really matter. Gerrard epitomised his club in a way that no other player has in the Premier League era. Only John Terry at Chelsea comes close. "What he’s given to this city, politicians haven’t given to this city," said Brendan Rodgers before Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace."You see in Barcelona they have the quote ‘more than a club’. You look at Steven Gerrard and he is more than football."

For those of a certain vintage, there will only ever be one No 1 ‘King Kenny’ Dalgish won three European Cups and five league titles as a player, before winning three more as a manager. Gerrard, for all those times when he dragged a far lesser team to glory, will be remembered as a close second. "For a guy who left school at 15, my vocabulary is not that great," said Dalglish once. "There is no way I could extol the virtues of Steven Gerrard and do him justice."

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