Tuesday, 13 January 2015

17 Alternative Gerrard Memories

Anyone a bit sick of the Gerrard stuff yet? Nope, me neither. Like most who work in sport, I get through a phenomenal amount of Sky Sports News each day and I'm still not yet irritated by loop after loop of Olympiakos, Istanbul or the absurd banana strike against Middlesbrough. However, if you are finding it all a bit tedious - here are 17 (one from each season) alternative memories of the greatest Red I ever did see:

1998-99 - The Subbed-Sub

Steven Gerrard holds plenty of records, but has anyone checked whether he boasts the quickest voluntarily subbed-sub in history? He replaced an injured Steve McManaman 25 minutes into another one of those 90s thrillers against Newcastle, but despite a one-man advantage (Didi was sent off for the Barcodes), the Reds fell behind. Gerrard was hooked at half time for fellow academy graduate Davey Thompson, and although the Toon would score again just after the break, the Kop sucked in four goals and the three points.

1999-00 - A Highbury Cameo

A 1-0 win at Highbury in 2000 provided the perfect cameo of the early Steven Gerrard: In 33 minutes, a sumptuous match-winning pass for Titi Camara, a heart-stopping, out-of-nowhere, goal-saving tackle at the feet of Freddie Ljungberg, before back problems caused by growing issues forced him out the game. Mercifully, his fitness problems would soon subside for a decade.

2000-01 - Bossing Vieira

Gerrard often cities Vieria as an idol and a player who frightened him in his early years, referring specifically to the runaround the Frenchman gave him in Cardiff before Michael Owen committed daylight robbery on the way to the 2001 Treble. Six months previous, a match took place that rarely gets mentioned by Liverpool's occasionally insecure captain. A 4-0 win against a side as fine as Arsene Wenger's turn-of-the-century Gunners is not recalled as often as it should. Gerrard scored a beautifully controlled volley early on, and proceeded to give the Arsenal skipper all the ammunition for revenge later in the season with the sort of stunning all-action performance that, even though it was for the best, I missed under Benitez.

2001-02 - The most underrated goal of all time

I implore you to watch Danny Murphy's winning goal at Old Trafford in 2002. We should always saviour long-range screamers, spectacular volleys and flowing counter attacks - but lets face it, they happen somewhere in England every weekend. This is why I love Murphy's goal. Its utter uniqueness. Gerrard carves out a pass that is never on, one which is worth a thousand missed Hollywood-balls, and Murphy delivers a cracking flick over Barthez from 10 yards. And you thought Sturridge's lob was audacious? As Martin Tyler said at the time - "the pass was so good, it told Murphy how to finish it." Quite right.

2002-03 - Hauled off for Diao

A rare negative memory here - and its a real downer. Gerrard's Liverpool career entered a bizarre crossroads in 2002 and things rather bottomed out in Basel. A must-win Champions League match and the number 17 was being replaced at half time by that go-to man, Salif Diao. The Reds came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 (one for the stattos - we are just as good without Stevie, right?) - though it wasn't enough to qualify for the next stage.

2003-04 - Captain Fantastic

Ah, the rarely seen Gerrard left-footed belter. Steven is by no-means a one-footed player, and indeed is a fine finisher inside the box with his weaker peg, but he rarely tries one from distance on his left side. So this low, skidding volley against Levski Sofia in 2004, one of his first goals as captain, is a particular favourite. I also love the celebration with Houllier, a show of support for his mentor who was soon to be on his way out. He was becoming a leader.

2004-05 - Not The Biggest Derby Ever

The 2005 Merseyside Derby at Anfield was billed as the biggest of the Premier League era, as a playoff for the Champions League. As is the case when the stakes are raised in a derby - Liverpool won. But it turned out not to matter as the Blues finished above us anyway, and then Istanbul went and overshadowed everything ever, and we've all gone and forgotten it. Gerrard scored a smart free kick, shaping to whack it and passing it neatly inside the post before Garcia made it 2-0. The Reds then lost three players to injury in the first half, Milan Baros to a red card in the second,  and with Luis Garcia hobbling on one leg for most of the second half during which Tim Cahill halved the deficit. The captain pulled us through, and instigated a post-match huddle. Sounds familiar.

2005-06 - Total Network Solutions

Gerrard's first game after turning down Chelsea, and the first of a Footballer of the Year campaign that would end with that West Ham goal. It started with a shy and embarrassed-looking Steven (he graduated from Stevie to Steven that season) scoring a hatrick in a Champions League qualifier against TNS, complete with Kop left-footer from outside the box, and not a single smile all night. He felt he owed us something. By the end of 05-06, we owed him everything. He'd always have us.

2006-07 - Forgotten genius

When you've scored over 150 goals, at least one in every major cup final, plenty of pile-drivers, last-gasp winners and big-game moments, its easy to forget those random moments of early-kick-off genius that make everything okay. A lunch-time cruise at The Valley on a chilly December Saturday against a woeful Charlton, two goals and three points already in the bag. No atmosphere. Just get it done and get home. And then we all had something to remember. Gerrard latches onto Crouch's knockdown and assessed the options, before a nifty shift of feet and deftly despatching the ball into the top corner, with a hybrid curl-chip strike. Delightful.

2007-08 - Headers

It is said of a lot of great players who score a lot of great goals, that heading is their weakness. It was often said of Raul, but if you actually go back and watch his goals, he'll score some splendid headers of all different kinds; thumpers, glancers, poached flickers and so on. He was better at heading than 90% of other footballers, but this gets missed because he was such a slick finisher with his feet. Gerrard is similar. Besiktas away in 2008 turned out to be in vain, but its a ridiculous diving header in an attempt to rescue a draw. Have a look.

2008-09 - Atletico Salvo

Liverpool were so good in 08-09 that Gerrard wasn't too often forced into the one-man-shows that Rafa Benitez felt so conflicted by. However, at home to Atletico Madrid he had to take matters into his own hands as a turgid Liverpool were heading for defeat. Neither team nor skipper could manufacture a shooting position on the edge of the box and the seconds were ticking down. So Stevie won the most absurdly-won penalty the Kop has seen - and Steve Heighway got a few dodgy ones in the 70s. Its almost beyond description. There was no danger. Repeat, there was no danger.  A ball harmlessly dropping from the sky in the most harmless spot in one corner of the box, and Gerrard saw his final opportunity. Sheer determination to get to the ball first and induce contact in the area. He sticks the pen away with ease and the Reds all but qualify. Nice.

2009-10 - Showboating against Stoke

Not one for a stepover - but Gerrard does occasionally frequent the showboat. A fabulous half-turn on the half-volley leads to Dirk Kurt scoring a third in a 4-0 win. Worth watching.

2010-11 - Missing on purpose

Gerrard became a very reliable penalty taker as the years went by, but his worst ever spotkick came rather inexplicably at Ewood Park in 2010, and it was quickly followed by Roy Hodgson's P45. He didn't though, did he?

2011-12 - Back from injury

Off the bench at home to Newcastle to score a decent solo goal and secure a 3-1 win. Not the type of goal that will make many Gerrard compilations due to the lack of drama and dodgy goalkeeping, but memorable for the celebration of a man who'd been struggling with groin injuries that he'd later reveal would nearly end his career and cause him ripping self-doubt.

2012-13 - Favourite Opposition

All players have them, and Gerrard loved to rub it into the Holte End. He has scored 13 goals against Aston Villa in his career, including this second half penalty that earned the Reds three points in the spring of 2013. He followed it with a headed clearance off the line to make sure. Not bad for a player who was by-now being written off by even plenty of his own apparent fans.

2013-14 - The Greatest Goal That Never Was

Oh, how I wish this one had gone in. This would have been the goal to end all goals. What was he even thinking in trying it? Luis Suarez had scored four corkers, but Gerrard almost stole a share of the headlines with a 270-degree twist and left-footed flick which sent John Ruddy to Hong Kong as the ball headed for California, and agonisingly clipped off the post. Its the first time that Goal of the Season should've gone to a miss.

2014-15 - Facing the demons

Gerrard could've packed football in after the World Cup in Brazil. Its hard to think of a footballer who shouldered so much responsibility and suffered so much personal sporting heartbreak in the spring and summer of 2014. Three games into the new season and Penaltypool win their first spot kick, and it would've been easy for Gerrard to hide. He could've passed it to Balotelli, hungry for his first goal and with a near-perfect penalty record. He's facing the league's second-best shot-stopper. He's been the laughing stock of the meme-go-round since the slip and the last thing he needed was twelve yards and a zoomed camera. There are so many reasons to doubt, and so many reasons to allow self-pity to take over. He looks concerned. Doesn't he always? Gerrard puts it away and blows a kiss to the away end, with a brief fist pump that says, "I'm here, and I'm still trying for you." 

Top, top man.

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