Steven Gerrard arrived at Anfield in 1989 as a nine year old after being spotted at Whiston Juniors. After 8 years of being a trainee, he signed his first professional contract at the club and after only another year he would make his debut for the first team. He made his debut for Liverpool in November 1998 against Blackburn Rovers coming on for Vegard Heggem late in the second half. It was to be the start of a long, illustrious career for the scouse midfield player and one that would see him become a living legend.
During his debut season at Anfield, Gerrard played 13 matches due to an injury to captain Jamie Redknapp. No doubt, the youngster was a raw talent and Gerrard would later say he felt out of his depth playing on the right hand side during his first season, but it held him in good stead in later years. Although passion and aggression did sometimes takeover, especially when he was sent off for a foul on Kevin Campbell in his first Merseyside Derby, he learned to control this side of his game and channel his energies into becoming a complete box to box midfielder. Despite groin and back injuries hampering his first few years, through the 1990/2000 campaign he established himself in the first team alongside Redknapp in midfield. He scored his first professional goal with a fantastic effort against Sheffield Wednesday and caught the eye of England manager Kevin Keegan.
Despite recurrent back problems and groin injuries diagnosed by doctors as accelerated growth and excessive playing, Gerrard became a crucial figure in helping Liverpool to a Cup treble in the 2000/2001 season. He scored in the thrilling 5-4 victory over Alaves in the UEFA Cup final after already winning the League Cup and the FA Cup, and it helped him become PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of the season. Then manager Gerard Houllier made Gerrard captain in October 2003, replacing Sami Hyypia, but failure and the lack of progress of the club put questions in the mind of Gerrard when the Houllier was sacked in 2004.
By this time, Gerrard had become a world class player, a midfielder with pace, passion, touch, vision, passing and tackling ability as well as being able to unleash a powerful strike on goal. It was a player that Chelsea under Jose Mourinho wanted and although Gerrard admitted he considered leaving Anfield for the first time in his career, he decided to stay and put faith in new manager Rafa Benitez. Both Gerrard and Liverpool struggled with injuries at the start of the campaign and it was again a struggle in the league. The Champions League was however a completely different matter altogether and after Gerrard scored that dramatic goal against Olympiakos to send the Reds through to the Knockout stages, Liverpool began a remarkable march to the final in Istanbul. They faced AC Milan in the final and all seemed lost at half-time at 3-0 down. A remarkable turnaround took place after the break, inspired by Gerrard, which would make the game the best final in European Cup history. Benitez put on Didi Hamann at half-time and Gerrard then got a quick reply with a bullet header to make the score 3-1. He then went on to win the penalty which made the score 3-3. After the Reds won on penalties, Gerrard once again was asked about his future and he said “How can I leave after a night like this.” Overtures did however come from Chelsea once again but just as it looked like he was going to leave Anfield, he made a dramatic u-turn and signed a new contract.
After being named UEFA’s most valuable player and coming third in the nominations for the Ballon d’Or for his efforts in the 2004/05 season, the following season would be his most successful as a player as he scored 23 goals and was named PFA Player of the Year. He made a crucial contribution in the FA Cup Final against West Ham in Cardiff, scoring a 35 yard screamer to send the game into extra-time at 3-3. The goal turned out to be crucial as Liverpool won on penalties and it made him the only English based player to score in all 4 major cup finals.
The 2006/2007 season was just as thrilling for Liverpool supporters as Gerrard broke Ian Rush’s European Cup goalscoring record of 14 goals and he led the side to another Champions League final, in which they this time lost Milan 2-1. During the season, Gerrard had been awarded an MBE by the Queen and on Merseyside his stature had risen to legendary status. Despite scoring 21 goals and getting the team to another Champions League semi final in 2008, the Premier League title was still eluding Gerrard and the Reds, but they would come closest to achieving that feat in the 2008/2009 campaign. They led the table for most of the season and Gerrard scored in a famous 4-1 win at Old Trafford as well as a double in an equally high profile 4-0 victory over Real Madrid at Anfield in the Champions League, but such efforts weren’t enough to bring a title back to Merseyside. Gerrard was given the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award for his efforts (scoring a record total of 24 goals in the process) but he would have given anything for that League title. The Reds have subsequently fallen back this season and are struggling to keep hold of fourth spot while fighting for European prizes in the Europa League rather than the Champions League. Gerrard will hope next season will bring more joy for Liverpool and his commitment to the club is unwavering as he signed a two year contract extension last summer to keep at the club he loves until he is 33.