A Manchester United fan breaks down Steven Gerrard’s legacy with Liverpool
For a stadium famous for it’s incredible matchday atmosphere there was something truly special about Anfield this past Saturday as Liverpool fans said goodbye to their legend Steven Gerrard. That’s high praise coming from a fan who hates anything and everything about Liverpool.
So here, as a die-hard Manchester United fan, I will attempt to do one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my career, objectively break down Steven Gerrard’s legacy with Liverpool.
Steven Gerrard may go down as the most polarizing player in Premier League history. During his 17-year career, spent entirely at Liverpool until he moves to the LA Galaxy this summer, Gerrard has played a role in every English football fan’s life– as a Liverpool fan, an opposing fan, or supporting him over his 114 caps with the English National team. It’s one of the charms that’s made him so unique, he can be one of the most hated players in England, but everyone had to support him for years as the rock of England’s midfield.
When breaking down Stevie G’s legacy there will of course be two camps: Liverpool fans and non-Liverpool fans.
For Liverpool fans it’s simple. Steven Gerrard is a legend, their hometown hero, possibly the greatest player to ever play for the club. He’s the man who scored 185 goals in 709 appearances for the club. The man who turned down Jose Mourinho and offers that could have made him more money or given him better chances to win trophies to stay with Liverpool. He’s the man who on that fateful night in Istanbul, with his team trailing 3-0 at halftime of the 2005 UEFA Champions League final, was the catalyst to rallying Liverpool back to tie, and eventually win, the match.
It was because of Steven Gerrard that the “Miracle in Istanbul” is considered one of, if not, the best finals in the competitions history. A year later he was at it again scoring two goals in the second half of the FA Cup final as Liverpool came back to beat West Ham on penalties. He’s the only English player to score in the final of the Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Cup, and League Cup, and he did it all for Liverpool.
But of course there’s also another side of Steven Gerrard. The side that Liverpool fans would rather not focus on, while opposing fans are all too happy to chirp about.
For as great of a player as Steven Gerrard was, and he was terrific, his trophy case leaves a lot to be desired. Gerrard led Liverpool to two FA Cups, three League Cups, the Champions League, and the UEFA Cup. That puts his total number of trophies at a paltry seven. We can raise that total to 10 if we include his two UEFA Super Cup’s and the Community Shield but of course that doesn’t take away the elephant in the room.
Steven Gerrard never led Liverpool to a Premier League title.
Sure there were other factors that contributed to Gerrard never winning the league–such as comparing his teammates to the Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea teams that did win–that it would be unfair to completely blame Gerrard. But let’s not forget Liverpool were no slouches either.
Over his career, Gerrard did play next to several tremendous talents including: Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, and Luis Suarez just to name a few. When Gerrard arrived, Liverpool were the most successful club in English history and were major players and always one of the top contenders in the Champions League all the way through the 00’s. When he leaves, he leaves a club that’s made one appearance in the Champions League since 2010 and has been overtaken by Manchester United for the most league titles in English football.
Steven Gerrard is Liverpool and Liverpool is Steven Gerrard. Or are they?
If you were an average fan it would be really easy to hear the accolades for Gerrard and think he’s Liverpool’s most indispensable player ever. There’s a funny little thing about that though. Historically, Liverpool are actually better WITHOUT Gerrard than with him. While this was mostly true for his entire career it’s even more glaring when you break it down into smaller chunks.
In the six year period from 2003-2009 Liverpool won 63.4% of their games that Gerrard didn’t play in compared to just 58.2% with him. That’s during a time when Gerrard was in his prime, and Liverpool won both the Champions League and FA Cup.
When Gerrard is on the team, his teammates statistical performances go down. There are many factors to this, but the biggest one at play is that for most of his career Liverpool were unable to find a system that maximized both the talents of Gerrard and his teammates. In the two games he’ll be remembered for most (the 2005 Champions League final and 2006 FA Cup Final), Gerrard led amazing comebacks in the second half when Liverpool decided they had nothing to lose, threw their system out the door, and gave Gerrard the freedom to just go out there and play how he wanted to.
This season Liverpool’s numbers are staggeringly better without Gerrard in the team, though that is more attributed to Gerrard being on his last legs and playing out of position. You can look at those numbers any way you’d like, but the biggest thing they do show is that Steven Gerrard, the player, can be replaced. If you think Gerrard leaving Liverpool means the sky is falling at Anfield, think again.
The legacy Steven Gerrard leaves at Liverpool is only a part of his legacy. There’s also the mark he made for England on the international stage.
He’s a man who captained his country in the 2014 World Cup. He’s been capped 114 times and scored 21 goals. But he’s a man who became one of the prominent faces of England’s “Golden Generation.” A generation of players who, despite having tremendous club success, are now synonymous with failure at the international level.
He’s the face of a group of players who were all rounding into their prime during a time when many of the other European powers were in their down periods. He’s the man that, during Euro 2004, stayed in central midfield, forcing Paul Scholes, considered England’s best central midfielder by virtually everyone he ever played against, to play out wide on the left. On paper, England had one of the best teams in that European championship and this was likely their best chance to win a major tournament. In the following years, he became a man who couldn’t form an effective partnership with Frank Lampard in the center of England’s midfield. The disarray became a major storyline and was one of the major reasons why England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championships.
As an opposing fan, it’s easy to point to the things lacking in Gerrard’s career. His lack of Premier League titles (and of course ‘the slip’ in 2014 when his slip derailed Liverpool’s title challenge and handed the title to Manchester City) or the fact that Liverpool seem to always be better without him.
If you’re not a Liverpool fan, you hear so much about the ‘legend’ of Steven Gerrard, but then you think of all the Premier League legends who have won more than him and your next instinct is to think, “man this Gerrard guy is pretty overrated isn’t he?”
That right there is what makes Steven Gerrard so special. On paper he’s wildly overrated. For a player as great and talented as everyone says he is, he’s won practically nothing. But football isn’t played on paper, and when it comes to Steven Gerrard you have to look beyond the paper.
When Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers was asked to describe Gerrard in one word he responded, “Liverpool.” Steven Gerrard was Liverpool and Liverpool was Steven Gerrard. When it was clear the club was going to go through hard times and their chances of winning trophies were behind them, Gerrard had options to join other clubs that could challenge for trophies. He chose Liverpool. Steven Gerrard showed loyalty in a business where neither players nor clubs show loyalty anymore, and that matters. As a United fan I’d love nothing more than to hate the man, but I can’t; his loyalty to his club has always made me respect him.
At the end of his career his name will be on a small list of players who grew up at a club and played their whole careers there (we all know his MLS years aren’t going to count and we won’t remember them). That list is incredibly small. It features players like Gerrard, John Terry, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary Neville. That’s all I can think of, but there can’t be too many more. Those types of players don’t exist in the Premier League anymore, and the Premier League is worse off because of it.
There’s no question he’ll always be a Liverpool legend, he’ll be that just for Istanbul alone. But at the end of the day he’ll also be remembered as a Premier League legend. Sure, many players won more than Gerrard, but Steven Gerrard was a Premier League heavyweight. He was consistently one of the best players in the Premier League during the time when the Premier League was at its absolute best.
The Premier League has seen some of the best players in the world come and go. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Didier Drogba, Gareth Bale, and Nemanja Vidic all spent a few years dominating the Premier League, however their time was brief. All of those players would have to come up against Steven Gerrard. Gerrard held his own against all of them, often coming out on top. He may not have won as much as those players, but he certainly outlasted all of them.
When Steven Gerrard moves to the LA Galaxy this summer the Premier League will be losing one of their legends. Liverpool fans will miss Gerrard, but I will too. Even if it’s just because the sight of Gerrard brings back the nostalgia of when the league had more players like him. The league is better with players like Gerrard.
Liverpool will never be able to replace the icon that is Steven Gerrard, but they will be able to replace Gerrard the player. While it’s sad to say goodbye to their captain now, I really believe their future is now better off without him, and as a United fan, that really scares me.