LONDON: Steven Gerrard, who plays his last home game for Liverpool on Saturday, is a player destined to be remembered as much for his extraordinary achievements as for his agonising near-misses.
The 34-year-old has captained his home-town club for 12 years, notably lifting the Champions League trophy after an unforgettable comeback against AC Milan in 2005, but coveted successes elsewhere have eluded him.
Although he has also won two FA Cups, three League Cups and the UEFA Cup, he has never laid his hands on the Premier League trophy and met with nothing but heartbreak in his 14-year England career.
The last 12 months have reflected the latter years of his career in microcosm — glorious opportunity, followed by crushing disappointment.
Gerrard was poised to capture his first Premier League title last season, but his cruel slip during a loss to Chelsea at an expectant Anfield tilted the momentum in the title race in Manchester City’s favour.
The pain of falling short was all the keener for Gerrard as it coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which his 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest of the 96 Liverpool fans who died.
Weeks later, Gerrard went to Brazil hoping to salve his wounds at the World Cup, only for England to crash out after two matches.
“It’s probably been the worst three months of my life,” he admitted afterwards.
Gerrard has endured more than his fair share of disappointment since inspiring Liverpool to glory in the 2006 FA Cup, with the 2012 League Cup the only major honour he has won since.
Playing for England, which he did on 114 occasions, captaining the team at three major tournaments, scarcely offered respite.
But taken as a whole, in his club career — which began when he walked through the doors of Liverpool’s academy at the age of eight — Gerrard has scaled nearly every height.
From the header that sparked the comeback to end all comebacks against Milan in Istanbul to the jaw-dropping 35-yard thunderbolt against West Ham United that took the 2006 FA Cup final to extra time, he has swaggered through his Anfield career with the audacity of a comic-book hero.
A turbo-charged midfield dynamo in his pomp, he came third in the voting for the Ballon d’Or in 2005 and was voted the greatest player in Liverpool’s history by fans in a 2013 poll.
No less a judge than Zinedine Zidane observed in 2009: “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo, but yes, I think he might be.”
Despite his powers fading, Gerrard excelled in a deep-lying midfield role under Brendan Rodgers last season, but has had to accept a reduced role this term.
He leaves Anfield as Liverpool’s third-highest appearance-maker, behind only Ian Callaghan and Jamie Carragher, and with a claim to the title of the club’s greatest-ever player that only Kenny Dalglish can contest.
“Because of what he has done for the club, I believe he is the best,” Carragher, Gerrard’s fellow Scouser and former team-mate, told the Daily Telegraph in 2012.
“Dalglish, (Graeme) Souness and Ian Rush all played together in a great team, but because football is a team game, it’s been harder for Stevie because he’s not always played in great teams.
“People will not fully realise how good he has been until he stops playing.”
Unlike David Beckham, his former England colleague, Gerrard will not arrive at the Los Angeles Galaxy as a global megastar, but for the last 17 years he has hogged the English football limelight like few before him.
“You are always going to have incredible moments and you are also going to have some cruel lows as well,” said Gerrard.
“Nobody’s journey ever goes smoothly — mine certainly hasn’t — but I am certainly proud of it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”