Premier League title would be Gerrard’s reward for staying loyal
Steven Gerrard had just given one of his finest Liverpool performances when he was asked a question that stopped him in his tracks.
Having scored two goals to inspire a 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid in the Champions League, Steven was soaking up the atmosphere inside Anfield when Raul, the legendary Spain striker and emblem of Madrid, came up to him. He congratulated him and then got straight to the point.
‘Will you come and join us next season, Steven?’ asked Raul.
That offer, which was made five years ago this week, was not the first he received to leave Liverpool, nor was it the last, but it illustrated how the powerhouse clubs in Europe viewed him - a big-game player who produced the big moments exactly when they were needed.
Of course, there was never any chance of Stevie going to Madrid, but had he done so it would have been impossible to begrudge him the opportunity.
Those with his quality deserve to perform on the biggest stage and deserve to have trophy cabinets that are full to the brim. Had he chosen to leave, he could have doubled his collection of 11 major honours. If, say, he had joined Chelsea when the chance first arose in 2004 — the same year Manchester United tentatively enquired about him — Stevie would have lifted the Barclays Premier League trophy three times.
My only advice to him back then, when Chelsea ramped up their efforts, was to look at the big picture. He could have gone to Stamford Bridge and returned with all kinds of medals but when he eventually returned home to Liverpool, how would he have been viewed?
Would Liverpool fans have congratulated him? Would they have been happy to see him be successful? Given the rivalry between the clubs, it would have been impossible. That’s why one title with Liverpool would mean more to him than 10 anywhere else.
Ultimately, he was right to stay; 12 months after that first offer from Chelsea, Stevie got his hands on the biggest prize of all in Istanbul. He immortalised himself with his performances that season, most notably in the Champions League final against AC Milan.
When you think about it, though, his loyalty to Liverpool has been unbelievable. Had he not come from this city, I don’t think for one moment he would have stayed, particularly given that Liverpool haven’t been anywhere near the Champions League for five years.
I don’t believe he needs the medal to cement his legacy but if you are a genuine football fan, for everything he has done over the past 15 years, you should want to see him complete his collection.
There are parallels with his current situation to how it was for Bryan Robson at United in the early 1990s, a club captain who had enjoyed great success, led his country with distinction but had found the one honour he craved most of all frustratingly out of reach.
Robson was still United’s driving force when they mounted their first real assault on the title in 1991-92, but their quest to end a 25-year wait was shattered at Anfield when Liverpool won 2-0. Stevie could easily find himself in a similar position on Sunday.
If Chelsea beat Aston Villa and Liverpool lose at Old Trafford, I feel a 10-point gap would be too difficult to overhaul, but Stevie is going into this make-or-break collision playing some of the best football of his career.
He has been questioned at times this season and there was even a theory Liverpool would be better off without him after they blitzed Tottenham 5-0 in December, but such talk about a man who has scored in each of the four major cup finals and at two World Cups was nonsense.
Without any kind of fuss, he has slotted into what has been called ‘the Pirlo role’ and dictated Liverpool’s play, showing his exemplary range of passing. It is the latest role he has mastered. He is a player who grandfathers will tell their grandchildren about.
We love foreign players who can star in a variety of positions. We hear about how they have been well-schooled but what about Stevie? He has thrived as a No 10, a deep-lying central midfielder, on the right flank or at right back. He could even play as a central defender and don’t forget Fabio Capello used him on the left for England.
Silver lining: Gerrard has won every domestic trophy in his time at Anfield - except the Premier League
There has been talk he will end his international career after the World Cup but he is still England’s first-choice midfielder and I can’t see anyone emerging to dislodge him.
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Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson are the new kids on the block but they are still playing catch-up. Leading England to Brazil is something I know he is very proud of, but nothing would make him prouder than leading Liverpool to a first title since 1990.
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After the Rafa Benitez era was over, we both felt our chance to become champions of England had gone. Certainly when Brendan Rodgers became manager, that feeling was even more acute as we knew it was a new project that would take a while to get going, so to be in this position is not something Stevie is going to want to let slip.
Followers of Chelsea and Manchester City will disagree — so, too, will Manchester United fans and Evertonians — but there would be no more romantic end to this season than seeing Stevie lift the Premier League trophy at Anfield on May 11.
For his quality and loyalty, it would cap a glorious career.
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