Legendary Manchester United midfielder Bryan Robson has risked upsetting fans of his old club by confessing his belief that Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard was a superior player to Paul Scholes.
England’s great football debate of the past decade has surrounded three goalscoring midfielders—Gerrard, Scholes and Frank Lampard, prompting the question: Who was best?
For me he can do everything and that's the reason I'd say he was the best of the three if I had to split them ahead of Scholes and Lampard in that order.
They are all top professionals and each brought different attributes and strengths but Gerrard can tackle, defend, score goals, head it, make a telling precision pass, dictate the tempo and is a powerful runner. He has a bit more to his game.
Gerrard is widely credited with dragging Liverpool—almost single-handedly at times—through what might otherwise have been a desperate period in the club’s history.
For 23 years they have not won a league title, but Gerrard has scored telling goals in Champions League, FA Cup and UEFA Cup finals to ensure the Reds’ trophy cabinet has not run dry.
The talismanic midfielder has won every major club trophy other than the Premier League title, which Scholes won 11 times, but Robson recalls the moment he knew Gerrard would be special:
I remember we were playing Liverpool and seeing this tall, rangy kid with a shaved head smashing into tackles against more experienced players and buzzing all over the pitch.
He had no qualms about reputations. I turned to our bench and said, "Who is this kid?" Afterwards I spoke to Liverpool and said I wanted to buy him but they just said "no chance, he's one for the future."
There is no doubt Scholes wins the battle when judged on trophies, but that statistic is skewed by the fact he represented a United side that dominated English football for well over a decade.
Lampard, meanwhile, leads the goalscoring statistics with over 200 for Chelsea, meaning Gerrard loses out to his rivals in two of the most tangible ranking criteria.
To argue Gerrard’s case, you have to use terms like “inspirational” and “awe-inspiring," words that cannot be measured by footballing stats.
Goals such as the last-gasp, cramp-riddled 30-yard equaliser in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham act as Gerrard’s evidence, as does his header and subsequent lung-busting display that dragged Liverpool to their miraculous Champions League triumph of 2005.
Robson says England’s star of the future Jack Wilshere still has plenty he can learn from both Gerrard and Lampard, who remain key individuals in the international setup ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Jones provides the quotes:
Jack Wilshere is a smashing little player but he still has a lot to do to convince me he can become world class. If he is to have a real impact at international level he needs to add more goals to his game.
At the moment the more consistent England performers are the more experienced ones. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are perfect for the squad but the young players need to come to the fore.
Who was the best?
In truth, the debate over England’s best midfielder of the past two decades is almost impossible to categorically settle. Gerrard had the drive to win a game single-handedly, while Scholes had the vision and invention to make him a star of England’s best club side of the past 20 years.
However, it usually takes a lot to force a former Manchester United star to put a Liverpool man ahead of his own, so Robson’s stance carries significant weight.