Friday, 2 January 2015

Steven Gerrard is the standout player from my whole career


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When I first saw Liverpool’s captain at 17 I knew there was something special about him, a leader with speed, skill, power and a kind heart. He was just class
• Gerrard: Leaving Liverpool the toughest decision of my life
• Daniel Taylor: club’s captain makes the right call

Gérard Houllier made Steven Gerrard Liverpool's captain at the age of 23 as he was
'the type of player others wanted to follow.' Photograph: Reuters

Steven Gerrard lifts the European Cup for Liverpool. Photograph: www.fotosports.com/Fotosports
I remember the first time I saw Stevie. I was looking for somebody to play on the right wing and Steve Heighway said he thought he had an answer in the Under-19s. There was a game organised between them and Blackburn’s Under-19s so I went.

After five minutes I realised the guy he was talking about would not fit into the wide position that I wanted, but in the middle of the park there was a player running from box to box, shouting at his team-mates and tackling, controlling the tempo.

At half-time I asked who he was and they told me it was a boy from the academy, that he was only 17 and played with the Under-19s to help them out, that he did not train a lot because he was often injured. In the second half he was as good as in the first, so I remember at the end of the match I told him that tomorrow he would be training with the pros. That’s how he came to Melwood for the first time.

We took him and worked with him in the gym. It did not take him long to break into the first-team. In the first year he played 12 matches, in the second he played around 25, so he was progressing gradually.

Now he has developed into more of an anchor in front of the defence, a holding midfielder where he can play the short and long passes. This is something we taught him with Phil Thompson, to use short passes as well as the long passes, because he could see a pass before anyone else and had a tendency to play long passes very often. He had an eye for that, but now he is an excellent holding midfielder. He has opted for a new challenge away from Liverpool and we have to respect that.

If you ask me what struck me about Stevie I would say three things. Firstly, the man – a great character and a great personality, even from an early age. He had a strong will and knew what he wanted to do. It’s very seldom that you have a young player who really devotes his time and energy to the job, he was so focused and professional. He is also a very kind-hearted person, nice to his team-mates and everyone.

Secondly, the player – he was a fantastic player and had this modern combination of speed, skill, power and technique. He had a good eye for the pass and of course the goal. The third aspect was his leadership quality. Very soon I noticed that he was a natural-born leader, he had great influence and I appointed him captain at the age of 23. He was the type of player you wanted to follow. You could go to war with him. He could pull you out of difficult situations and Rafa Benítez would agree with that.

He was a leader in training as well as in the games. He would not back down. He probably had to tame his impulsiveness at the beginning and become more composed, but it was the same for Patrick Vieira and often is for young central midfielders. He got sent off against Everton and received a four-game suspension but I put him straight back into the team.

There was something special about Stevie, in the big games he would always deliver something special. The FA Cup final against West Ham, in Istanbul, against Manchester United. In his third season he played around 50 games, when we won five trophies in a year. He took part in practically every key game.

The only missing thing for him is the Premier League title, and that’s probably because he stayed at Liverpool. He had offers from other clubs where he would have won titles. But he has won everything else. He was very proud to play for Liverpool and as proud to play for the national team.

Steven Gerrard: ‘Leaving Liverpool has been the toughest decision of my life’
He is the one player, from a personal point of view as well as a professional one, that stands out during my whole career. Maybe now he will have one or two years in America and after that I see him staying in football. He has all the ingredients to be a good coach but obviously he has to go through his training and qualifications. I can see him coming back to Liverpool in many years.

He had two crucial qualities, he was very intelligent and had such a great desire for success. An important reason why he was such a star player is because he was a true team player. He blossomed with the captain’s armband.

I read somewhere Steven saying he was the player that he was thanks to Gerard Houllier. Not many people would say that and it made me very proud. We had a very close relationship, not only captain and coach but I was attentive to his development.

There was a personal moment that meant a lot. I was in the changing room after the final against Milan in Istanbul, and I will always remember his attitude to me. Stevie, if I had to sum him up in one word, it would be class. Just class.

The Guardian

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