With Liverpool on the brink of a first Premier League title, we look at what it means to their ever present captain who has deserved it more than anyone.
As Liverpool fans nervously went through their fingernails in the dying moments of their Premier League clash against Manchester City at Anfield on 13th April, the captain of the club was at his most alert than at any other time during the game. With furrowed brows, he tracked the ball at James Milner’s dancing feet, urging young James Flanagan to close him down quicker once the ball was out of play. Liverpool were 3-2 up with a minute of stoppage time to go but this was no time to relax. To the contrary, the Liverpool captain was more concentrated than ever as he marshaled his midfield and made a telling interception to break up a City attack.
At 33 years of age, Steven Gerrard epitomizes the soul of Liverpool Football Club. An out and out Scouse who will refuse to die down, he has been a portrait of determination throughout his career. He is the man who carried the team on his back for more than a decade, in the process scoring goals in finals of the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League). However, the holy grail of English football has remained elusive. The one trophy he would rather have had his hands on, than the ones he has won, is yet to be conquered. The Premier League title awaits.
Now, Steven Gerrard has lost a yard of pace and a bit of stamina that allowed him to sprint from box to box when he was younger. The goals seem to have dried up and the attacking contribution he offered two seasons ago has waned. But there is none who deserves this Premier League title more than him. Liverpool must win it for him. For his captain’s performance against Milan at Istanbul, for that equalizer against West Ham United in the 2006 FA Cup Final which took the game to a winning shootout, for that goal against Olympiakos in the last five minutes that ensured progression to the knockout phase in that Champions League winning year.
Gerrard, who is usually not seen as very emotional shed a few tears of joy when the final whistle sounded against Manchester City. That was the moment he realized that the title could be heading to Anfield. Many may have talked up Liverpool’s chances of winning the league for the last month or so but Gerrard has a reason to be wary. He came ever so close to lifting the elusive trophy in 2009, when Liverpool were pipped to the title by rivals Manchester United’s late charge that coincided with that famous rant from Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez.
Gerrard has waited, biding his time in the shadows, churning out performances for Liverpool in the Europa League when he could’ve walked into any club’s first team playing in the Champions League. He has seen dark days when his Liverpool team finished seventh in the league in 2010, right after their second spot finish the previous season, but he has stuck by his team, even though he could’ve moved away to Bayern Munich at the end of that season. He has endured a season without European football the next season when Kenny Dalglish was brought back at the club after Roy Hodgson’s drab spell.
Gerrard has been a patient man and knows not to celebrate too soon. However, after that final whistle against City, something gave. The years of disappointment, dejection, frustration and angst caught up with him as the Liverpool captain broke down in tears. Rounding up his players on the pitch after the game, he delivered a powerful and emotional talk to his players perhaps to steady them and let them know that they are not there yet. He has seen the glint of the Premier League trophy only to have it cruelly taken away from him. He knows not to open that bottle of champagne yet.
His post match interview was more than just an ordinary interview. You could see the relief in his body at beating their closest title rivals and the belief in his eyes that this could be the year he banishes the bitter memories once and for all. Perhaps the most telling moment about how confident Gerrard is about winning the Premier League this year was his answer when he was asked if he can dare to dream now. “Oh yeah”, said the captain.
Gerrard has battled long and hard. He loves to score goals and he loves a hard tackle. He will produce a magical cross field long ball in one moment and will be seen slide tackling the ball into touch the next. And he is a team player. The disgust on his face when he thought Nani made the most of Jamie Carragher’s foul summed him up – always got his teammates’ back, ready for a fight and solid in his views. His thunderous right foot strikes have saved Liverpool on many an occasion and now it is his turn to ask for the favour to be returned.
The fans love him because he gives his all. He is a no-nonsense footballing man. He is the true spirit of the attitude players should have in a game. And yet Steven Gerrard is not infallible. Despite his very vocal condemnation of diving and theatrics, Gerrard has in the past taken a tumble rather easily to win a foul. The proud one club man has twice been almost lured away to Chelsea – the first time after a rotten 2003-04 season which saw Gerard Houllier leave and the second after Liverpool’s epic win at Istanbul when he wouldn’t sign a club record contract because Chelsea came calling. But Gerrard has persisted. And the fans have forgiven and forgotten. He is after all human. And their savior. And after sixteen long years at the club, it is time to win the trophy for the captain.