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Noughty Boys: Steven Gerrard played football the way we all wish we could

Liverpool's legendary number eight was the local boy-made-good who seemed to possess footballing superpowers

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Tom Victor
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Steven Gerrard might have retired from football in 2016, but his legacy will long live on whenever anyone plays a football video game in what has become colloquially known as 'Gerrard mode'.

Think of it as football with superpowers, where one player can push his way from the halfway line into the opposition area with the idea of them being tackled little more than a pipe dream.

The appeal of the style comes from how unrealistic it is, or at least should be. Football is a team game, and the idea of one man doing it all by himself is something which ought to be restricted to park kickabouts or, yes, video games, not at the elite level.

However, for Gerrard, this was the reality. Throughout more than 800 games for club and country, he played football how you’ve always wanted to… and he made it work.

The local boy-made-good

Gerrard kisses the Champions League trophy before lifting it in 2005Getty Images
Gerrard kisses the Champions League trophy before lifting it in 2005

The skills required to be king of the playground are meant to be different from those you need as a pro, and you need only look at any player described as a 'wasted talent' to understand how that works.

Making the step up requires compromise, at least for 99% of players, but Gerrard forced himself into that remaining 1%. And the same force of will that got him into the game acted as his most valuable quality in achieving what he did in a Liverpool shirt.

Recalling his childhood kickabouts, the Merseyside-born midfielder would say of the makeshift hard playing surface outside his home in Huyton, Liverpool: “Back then, it was MY pitch – no cars allowed."

It was there that he developed the nous to determine no game was too big for him to dominate, whether that meant a six-year-old Stevie going up against kids a few years his senior, or the local-lad-made-good, inspiring the Reds to a Champions League final comeback you wouldn’t think possible if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes.

When the bigger boys coming to play in your yard is all you’ve ever known, you’re going to play like every pitch you step on is your own turf to protect.

Steven Gerrard makes a trademark fierce tackle in midfield Getty Images
Steven Gerrard makes a trademark fierce tackle in midfield

There has been no player quite at the same level as Gerrard when it comes to sending shots into the back of the net through sheer strength of character.

He might have fallen desperately short of a Premier League title, but his accolades show us that playing football the way everyone wants to play it can still bring the highest of highs.

To get a feel for Gerrard’s longevity in Liverpool colours, all you need to do is look at an assortment of his team-mates.

His early days at Anfield saw him share a pitch with Gary McAllister, who was born in 1964, while Gerrard’s team-mates in his final game included Jordon Ibe, a man 31 years McAllister’s junior. And yet Gerrard was worthy of his place in both generations – and every squad in between.

Gerrard is mobbed after his late winner against Charlton in 2003Getty Images
Gerrard is mobbed after his late winner against Charlton in 2003

While most Liverpool fans will point to Gerrard’s achievements in 2005 and 2006, there was one earlier goal which seemed to encapsulate his body of work even more.

In the final minute of a Premier League game against Charlton Athletic in April 2003, in which Liverpool had trailed until five minutes from time, Gerrard found a way in between Luke Young and John Robinson where there ought to have been no space whatsoever, before squeezing a low shot beyond Dean Kiely.

The concept of ‘wanting it more’ is deliberately nebulous, often shared by limited coaches unable to express what they really mean, but on this occasion it’s hard to find another way to describe the midfielder’s route to goal.

It’s all down to a frankly inhuman sense of self-belief; a refusal to incorporate the term ‘impossible’ into his internal dictionary.

There might have been moments in Gerrard’s career where such an approach worked against him, but when it served him so well on so many occasions it’s easy to see why he was so keen to persist.

Refusing to give up

Gerrard celebrates his winner against OlympiakosGetty Images
Gerrard celebrates his winner against Olympiakos

Liverpool weren’t meant to be anywhere near the 2005 Champions League final, and that they even shared a pitch with AC Milan in Istanbul was down to Gerrard’s intervention against Olympiakos in the final group game.

Needing to win by two goals to progress, the Reds fell behind to a Rivaldo free-kick and suddenly needed to find three unanswered goals. Obviously, it would be Gerrard who stepped up in the 86th minute to deliver the third and send Anfield wild.

There was something cinematic about the effort, with the way the ball set up perfectly for the midfielder from Neil Mellor’s knockdown. For that second, those of us watching at home saw the game through Gerrard’s eyes, with that steely focus whereby the ball was only going in one place and goalkeeper Antonis Nikopilidis was not going to get a chance to interfere with destiny.

Liverpool rode the momentum of that goal all the way through to the final in Turkey, and, having done it once, Gerrard had the belief to do the same once more when his team fell 3-0 down to Milan by half-time.

Gerrard had a unique power whereby his own refusal to give up could flow through his team-mates. It didn’t matter if the perseverance could sometimes make things worse – if there was even a 1% chance of reviving his team, you could bet he’d give it a shot.

One year on, in the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, it was time for Act II. If Liverpool were never expected to be in the game in Istanbul, they were never expected to allow their opponents to compete 12 months on - and yet, as the clock ticked into stoppage time, they trailed underdogs West Ham 3-2.

As the Merseyside club struggled, so did Gerrard. He had gone down with cramp, and the game looked beyond him. But as the ball dropped to him 35 yards from goal, he cobbled together every last ounce of strength in his body to hammer the ball past Shaka Hislop and into the corner of the West Ham net.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard Gerrard scores incredible 35-yard FA Cup final equaliser

It was a case of his powerful spirit mending his broken body, however temporarily.

Steven Gerrard could well have added more trophies to his cabinet by leaving Liverpool, and yet you got the sense he was only able to produce those against-all-odds recoveries by virtue of that red shirt giving him power. The one-club man is a dying breed in English football, but Gerrard was able to stay with his boyhood club for his entire time in the Premier League, without compromising his pursuit of trophies.

Steven Gerrard banners at AnfieldGetty Images
Steven Gerrard banners at Anfield

Only a Premier League title evaded him, and the perfectionist in him explains why he’d later admit he will “never be at peace” with some of the near-misses, but he retired with a body of work any player would be immensely proud of.

More importantly, though, he achieved everything by bustling his way into a leading role - and refusing to be a passenger.