Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Liverpool: Player Profile: Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

Birthdate: 30.05.1980
Birthplace: Whiston, Liverpool England
Other clubs: None
Bought from: Local
Signed for LFC: 0 1997 (signed as professional)
International debut: 31.05.2000 vs. Ukraine
International caps: 89/19 (17.11.2010)
Liverpool debut: 29.11.1998
Last appearance: 06.03.2011
Debut goal: 05.12.1999
Last goal: 05.01.2011
Contract expiry: 2013 (signed 2009)
LFC league games/goals: 387 / 84
Total LFC games/goals: 556 / 140 

Player profile

Steven Gerrard has certainly accomplished nearly all he envisaged. The Premiership title is the only one left for him to make his Liverpool career complete. Steven is a great leader, strong in tackle, can hit the ball at ferocious speed, has good vision, scores great goals, makes brilliant passes and has it all, simply. He is the only man to score goals in the finals of the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Cup and the European Cup.

Steven started out with his local team, Whiston Juniors, until he was noticed by Liverpool's scouts at 9 years of age. He never played on international level when he was younger, mainly due to his lack of height. When he was 15, he was the same height as Michael Owen, but his sudden growth caused problems in his back restricted him to only playing 20 games from 14 years of age to 16.

Gerrard burst unto the scene in 1998 when Jamie Redknapp got injured. He played 13 games, but his physical condition was still restricting his progress. Finally the England set-up took notice. He was made captain of the u-18 side and made his debut for the u-21s in September 1999. Houllier trusted the 19-year-old to begin the 1999-2000 season in the starting line up alongside Redknapp and promised him at least 20 games. Didi Hamann took his place 8 games into the campaign in the Merseyside derby and disappointed Gerrard was put on the bench. Gerrard lost his composure at the end of the match and was sent off for an ugly foul and was banned for three games. Gerrard returned stronger than before, determined to prove himself and his first goal for the club proved to be spectacular. A superb solo effort against Sheffield Wednesday on 5th December 1999 signalled his intentions. He also proved his versatility as in one year he had played at left back, right back, defensive and offensive midfielder and on the right wing.

On 31st May 2000 Gerrard made his international debut, aged 20 years and one day, in a 2-0 win vs Ukraine at Wembley. A relative newcomer to the England squad Gerrard only made one substitute appearance in Euro 2000 when he came on for Michael Owen in the 61st minute in England's win over Germany. Kevin Keegan's England team only recorded this one win and failed to qualify from their group. The boy had sure come far in a short period of time and his career rose rapidly in the 2000-2001 season. He made 50 appearances for Liverpool, won the League Cup and FA Cup and scored a goal, which he ranks as one of his most memorable, in the brilliant 5-4 win over Alaves in the UEFA Cup final. Steven won the Professional Footballers Association's young player of the year award.

Liverpool, under the guidance of Gerard Houllier, continued its progress in the League and finished second in the 2001-2002 season, seven points behind Arsenal, despite Houllier being admitted to hospital early on in the season. Gerrard was ruled out of England's World Cup squad in the summer through injury and Liverpool's form dropped considerably the next two years. Despite these setbacks Gerrard's influence had grown and on 15th October 2003 he was made captain of Liverpool Football Club, a dream come true for the boyhood Red: "I was captain of my school side and I used to go along to Anfield to watch the team and I always looked up to people like John Barnes who captained the team during the 90s. I used to watch Barnes with the captain's armband and dream that one day it would be me captaining the team I love." Rafa Benítez took over in 2004 and Gerrard reached the pinnacle of his career when he inspired Liverpool to a miraculous Champions League win in Istanbul. What followed no-one could have imagined. Rick Parry had told Gerrard that Liverpool were going to renew his contract in the summer, but as Liverpool remained unresponsive, Chelsea with all its riches tempted Gerrard to leave Liverpool or London. Gerrard later said in his autobiography it was the lowest point in his career: "Madness broke out. I was sitting dazed at home, watching the TV, and when I saw fans burning an old No 17 shirt by the Shankly Gates, it did my head in. Show some respect. Don't you know how this is tearing me apart? Dad begged me not to go, but I replied, 'look at the TV, fans are burning my shirt, the club aren't stopping them, Liverpool don't want me any more'. I stared at the TV through flowing tears. I was suffocated by stress. My head was banging, and I was eating paracetamol like Smarties. I could see the great possibilities of Chelsea, but my heart wouldn't let me leave. Finally, my mind was made up. At 11pm that night, on July 5, 2005, I called my agent to tell Rick Parry (Liverpool's chief executive) that I wanted to sign. My heart stopped racing, and I put the paracetamol away. The following morning, I awoke with a smile on my face for the first time in weeks."

Gerrard scored 20+ goals for Liverpool for the first time in the 2005-2006 season and it was real "Roy of the Rovers" stuff for Gerrard when Liverpool faced West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup final. Gerrard scored with a stunning volley in the 54th minute to make it 2-2 and when West Ham seemed certain to lift the cup, being 3-2 up with time running out, Gerrard scored from a long way out, an incredibly audacious effort by the captain. Liverpool won the FA Cup after a penalty shoot-out which unfortunately remains the last major honour Liverpool have won. Gerrard was recognised by his professionals as the best player in the Premier League that season.

Gerrard featured for Sven-Goran Eriksson's England in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, playing 5 games and scoring in two consecutive games vs Trinidad and Tobago and Sweden. Gerrard missed a penalty as England was eliminated by Portugal in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals. Liverpool's inspirational captain had another stunning season in 2006-7, missing only 4 League matches and playing in 52 out of a maximum 59 competitive matches. He reached 300 League appearances for his one and only club in a home match against Blackburn Rovers in April. His goal-tally reached double figures for the 5th successive season and left his grand total just short of the century mark (a landmark he reached with a thunderous free-kick from outside the penalty area on 1st of October 2008 vs PSV Eindhoven at Anfield.) After misses 'from the spot' in previous seasons, Steven was a reliable and accurate penalty-taker with 5 of his 6 penalty-kicks being successful and the other one being parried straight back at him by the Marseille goalkeeper for him to score with the rebound. As Autumn turned into Winter, Gerrard scored in 6 successive home matches in League and cup and during the same period he also scored a stunning free-kick up at Newcastle. But his most productive day goal-wise was when Luton Town came up to Anfield for an F.A. cup 3rd round replay. Gerrard had not even made the squad for the original tie in Bedfordshire but in the replay he scored a hat-trick in 17 second-half minutes to ensure that there would be no big cup upset.

Like the rest of his club-colleagues, Steven put the disappointment of losing the Champions League final in Athens behind him as Liverpool prepared for another season. Newspaper speculation again linked Liverpool's skipper with a big-money move to Chelsea in the summer of 2007. However, as he and Jamie Carragher signed new deals on the 4th of June, 2007 to keep both players at Anfield for four more years, this matter was finally put to rest.

On the international stage Gerrard continued to represent his country on a regular basis and was given the honour by new national team coach Fabio Capello of captaining England at Wembley on the 13th of October, 2007. Four days later he missed the sort of chance against Russia in Moscow that he would have probably taken 9 times out of 10. England slumped out of the qualifying tournament for Euro 2008, leaving Gerrard free to concentrate on club matters. Gerrard continued to be a hugely influential player for Liverpool in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, two years in which he added another 96 first-team appearances to an already impressive total. He also added another 45 goals. He scored twice as Real Madrid were humbled at Anfield in the Last 16 in the Champions league, but he was unable to prevent Liverpool losing to Chelsea in the next round, the second leg of which he missed because of injury. When he returned, the team won its final four League matches but it was not quite enough to wrestle the championship from Manchester United. It was, however, the first time that Gerrard had been involved in a really serious Liverpool challenge for the much-coveted title and the experience of a near-miss in 2009 ought to be enough to make him believe that he can finally complete his set of domestic medals by being part of a team that wins the Premier League. Gerrard’s talent was evident enough for Football Writers to vote him the best player of the 2008-9 season. On the 9th of July 2009 it was announced that Gerrard had signed an extension to his contract that would tie him to the club until 2013.

Without being unkind to him ... and it is something even the player himself might honestly admit to ... 2009-2010 was one of Steven Gerrard's poorest in a Liverpool shirt and almost certainly his poorest since being given the captain's armband by Gerard Houllier in 2003. Steven only missed seven matches so he was as much a regular in the first-team as he had usually been. Yet there was something missing. Maybe it was that his extraordinary ability to get the team out of a hole, something he had done countless times in the previous ten years, was suddenly waning. Maybe it was because his contribution in terms of goals, just 12, was exactly half that of the previous season and his lowest for three years. Possibly the pressure of being captain was starting to tell on him. Or maybe he as captain felt that pressure more than anyone as performances and results started to decline rapidly as Autumn turned into Winter. Whatever the reasons ... and it's probably a combination of different factors ... Gerrard was not the colossal influence we have come to expect from him. He knew that the team was expected to 'kick on' from the 2nd place it had achieved in 2009 and win the ultimate prize. But right from the opening-day defeat at Tottenham, in which he once again showed his great composure at taking a penalty-kick, he just wasn't able to reach the incredibly high standards he has always sought and nearly always achieved.

Gerrard passed 350 Premier League matches and 500 career matches for Liverpool during the season. Between the final League match in May and the start of the World Cup in June, he would become thirty years old, a significant milestone for a professional footballer. He was named captain of the England team when injury ruled Rio Ferdinand out of the World Cup in 2010. He responded by netting England's first goal against the United States; but it was a lead he and his colleagues were unable to hold on to. He played in all four of England's matches to take his total of full international 'caps' to 84 ... but was unable to add to the solitary goal he scored early in the opening game.

In 2010-11 Steven played in the fewest number of competitive matches (just 24 out of 54) since his first full season of 1999-2000. This was partly because of an injury he received against Manchester United at Anfield in March. United were prominent in Steven Gerrard's season. The skipper scored twice at Old Trafford in September and his brace looked like rescuing a point until Berbatov's late winner. Back at Old Trafford in January in the F.A. cup as Kenny Dalglish returned to the dugout, Gerrard was sent off by Howard Webb for what the referee deemed to be a reckless and dangerous challenge. Gerrard's goal contribution was also his fewest for a decade. Four in the Premier League would have been five if he hadn't missed a penalty against Blackburn in his 550th game for the club that turned out to be Roy Hodgson's final match in charge. He also scored four times in the Europa League, a routine penalty against Rabotnicki in the Third Qualifying Round and a stunning second-half hat-trick to turn an interval deficit into a full-time victory against Napoli.

Gerrard was still only thirty years old when the 2010-11 season ended. He says that after his successful groin operation that he hasn't felt as good for a decade. Already with 140 goals from 556 competitive Liverpool matches, it is hoped that his contribution in terms of matches played and goals scored will quickly return to the sort of figures we are more used to seeing from the captain.

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