Shannon: Gerrard's our greatest talent

In our latest article celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Steven Gerrard's first-team debut, Academy coach Dave Shannon recalls his memories of a man he believes is the finest Reds player to rise through the ranks.

Amidst the litter of papers and tactical notes on Dave Shannon's desk lies a match report.

It reads: "Stevie ran the game with an outstanding display of vision, passing, heading and strong tackling."

Sounds familiar...

It's a comment that could easily have been attributed to any number of Steven Gerrard's displays during a sensational ten year spell as the heartbeat of Liverpool's first-team.

Indeed, reporters must have a template of worn-out adjectives when it comes to rating the latest performance of one of the finest players world football currently has to offer.

So, you may be somewhat surprised to learn that they are not the words of a national newspaper hack churning out the superlatives.

Instead they are the analytical comments of the man who coached Gerrard in the open age range of the old Lancashire League back in the mid-90s.

This particular note was written by Shannon himself - the current Academy under-16 coach - following a 3-0 win over Everton 'B' on Saturday October 12, 1996. 

It is just one of a plethora of old reports he dug out for as we sat down at the club's Youth base in Kirkby to discuss all things Stevie G.

"These reports are from the old Lancashire league games when it was under-18 and an open age team," he said.

"You can see on the top of it that it has the initial RE which meant a copy had to be sent to the first-team manager at the time, Roy Evans.

"Stevie's got all these now. He actually scored in that game too, so it will have been a good afternoon for him - especially as it was against Everton."

Shannon first came across Gerrard in 1990 when he received a phone call telling him that he simply 'had to take a look at this kid.' 

The Liverpool coaching staff duly obliged and Steven Gerrard took his first tentative steps towards a career at Anfield.

"When he was nine you could see straight away he was immensely talented," said Shannon. "He had a fantastic desire to play and compete. He wanted to be the best at everything. He was just born to be what he is.

"You could instantly see he was something special. He even trained with the older boys - he was fearless.

"He wasn't big in those days; he was about the same size as Michael Owen until he went through a late growth spurt. He was definitely a late developer in that regard."

Fast forward to the present and Gerrard is on the verge of his 10th anniversary in the Liverpool first-team after making his debut as a late substitute in a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers on November 29, 1998.

It has been a decade blessed with a sizzling compilation of great Gerrard moments and Shannon admits he is proud to see one of the Academy's graduates at the pinnacle of his profession.

"I think it's an impressive landmark," he said.

"To be at one club and to play the amount of games he has played is a fantastic achievement. I'm sure when he looks back at the years between 14 and 16, when he only played about 30 games, that for him to have played 400 plus matches for the first-team is fantastic.

"I still get a buzz seeing him run out at Anfield on a match day.

"When he first broke into the team everyone thought that it was good to see and the crowd all hoped he would go on to be a decent player.

"We've watched him develop from a young, likable 'scally' in many ways, to the young man he is now and a fantastic ambassador for club and country.

"He's gone on to become a world class player and he's handled it all brilliantly. He's been very humble and shown a lot of class.

"He interviews very well and I think that's a credit to the likes of Tim Devine here at the Academy and all the coaches who worked with him.

"They haven't just been concerned with what he has done on the pitch but how he portrays off the pitch."

Regulars at Anfield will have grown accustomed to the devastating spectacle of a Steven Gerrard special.

The Reds skipper has one of the most venomous shots in the game and every time Shannon sees the number eight rifle home one of his trademark efforts it takes him back to the days when he worked on striking the ball with him.

"I remember one game in the B team at Melwood when we played Manchester United," he said. "The ball came out to him and he chested it on the edge of the box. I knew he was going to volley it and it just flew into the net.

"Things like that stick out in your mind because we used to spend a tremendous amount of time focusing on striking the ball well in training.

"You know when you watch him now, how he 'pings the ball?

"Well we used to tell them to make sure you really 'ping' your pass so no-one can intercept it. He used to take real joy from hitting a football hard and true.

"Even now I'll text him after he's hit a great goal, like that famous one against Olympicos, and play it down a bit. I'll say something like 'not a bad 'ping' that one.'

"Everyone knows it was a great goal but I'll just play it down a bit and he'll text back. We have a bit of a rapport that way but obviously he's moved on. He's been very good to me over the years and fantastic for everyone at Liverpool FC."

Gerrard is one of a number of players to have graduated from the club's Academy and made a name for himself in Liverpool's first-team.

For many he is undoubtedly the finest home-grown talent the club has nurtured and Shannon is fully supportive of that belief.

"I've been here 20 years now and he's definitely the best player to come through," he said. "That's some accolade too because we've had the likes of Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen come through.

"He's different class."

After a decade of brilliance the only item missing from the Gerrard roll of honour is that elusive Premier League title winners' medal.

It is something he is desperate to achieve and Shannon believes it would be the icing on the cake for a man who could one day be regarded as Liverpool's all-time great.

"He's certainly up there as one of the best Liverpool players ever," he said.

"He's your all-round footballer. If you play him right-back, he's your best right back. If you play him right midfield he's your best right midfielder. Where are you going to play him where he's not the best?

"He's just a total footballer. Great in the air, excellent in the tackle, reads it well, athletic, the list goes on.

"I think every manager in the world would have him in the team and I feel privileged to have had some small role in his development.

"The only thing missing for Stevie is a Premier League title winners' medal.

"If he can win that he'll have the set, and if they could do that this season, it wouldn't be a bad way to round off a decade at the club now, would it?"

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