It was in Istanbul nine years ago that the scoreline read 3-0 with the Rossoneri faithful sensing a seventh Champion’s League win for the Italians. Kaka’s through ball had just ripped through the Liverpool defense, allowing Hernan Crespo to chip the ball over Jerzy Dudek into the back of the net. Despair filled the hearts of the Reds’ supporters who had travelled to the outskirts of Europe in hopes of seeing their team lift the cup after 20 years.
The referee’s whistle marked an end to the half with the match almost over, yet ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed in the stands of the Atatürk.
It was John Arne Riise’s cross in the 53rd minute for Steven Gerrard that led to a series of events that have widely been termed as The Miracle of Istanbul.
Gerrard’s looping header went past Dida and into the net. The captain ran over to the crowd and pumped them up, the match is not over he seemed to be saying. Buoyed by their captain’s message, Liverpool scored two more goals before the hour-mark and went on to win penalties to snatch the cup right from under the Rossoneri.
Gerrard inspired Liverpool to their fifth Champions League win and throughout his career he has consistently guided his club to many a victory against all odds. His pin-point passes, his never-ending hunger to drive forward and his ability to alter the atmosphere around him has elevated him to the status of a legend.
Born on May 30, 1980, Gerrard’s Anfield love affair started when he joined the Liverpool Academy as a nine-year old. He made his debut for the Reds on November 29, 1998 against Blackburn Rovers as a substitute for Norwegian Vegard Heggem. Since then, Steven Gerrard has been ever-present at Anfield.
Gerrard lifted his first trophies with Liverpool in 2001, when the Reds completed an FA Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup treble. Just two years later, in October 2003, he was asked to lead the Reds, taking on the armband from Sami Hyypia.
Gerrard’s initial years as captain were troublesome, especially when a barren 2003-2004 season saw rumours of a move to Chelsea surface as frustrations grew.
It was the captain’s relentless hunger to succeed that turned around the match in Istanbul and although it is regarded as the most celebrated moment of his career, it is not the only one. Had it not been for Gerrard’s 86th-minute pile-driver against Olympiacos earlier in the group sates, Liverpool would not even have been in the final to begin with. Next year, Gerrard was at it again with a last-minute equaliser against West Ham in the FA Cup final which allowed Liverpool to take the match into extra-time and eventually win the trophy on penalties.
Fellow midfielders are just as much in awe of him as the spectators. French maestro Zinedine Zidane, said: “Is he [Gerrard] the best in the world? He might not get the attention of [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo but yes, I think he just might be. He has great passing ability, can tackle and score goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can’t learn that — players like him are just born with that presence.”
Gerrard’s career is laden with honours that only a few can boast. He has 114 caps for England, scoring 21 goals for his nation. He has lifted the FA Cup twice for Liverpool, one in 2001 and the other in 2006. He became the UEFA Club Footballer of the year in 2005 and was named the PFA Player of the Year in 2006 to become the first to win the award for Liverpool since the talismanic John Barnes in 1988. Always a man for the big games, he is also the only player to have scored in the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League finals.
But perhaps Gerrard’s most commendable attribute is his loyalty to Liverpool which has forced him to give up on many individual and team accolades, which he could have attained had he chosen to leave for a bigger club. However, the captain does not regret his decision and promises to stay on claiming that he has ‘absolutely no intention of ever playing for another club’.
Gerrard continues to be a source of inspiration and will continue to be so even when he hangs up his boots. His legend will endure for years to come and chants of “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard!” will continue to ring around Anfield for the captain who not only plays, but also inspires.
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Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2014.