Steven Gerrard's Adaptation to My Old Liverpool Role Underlines His Greatness

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Steven Gerrard's Adaptation to My Old Liverpool Role Underlines His Greatness
Ben Radford/Getty Images

I’ve been alongside him before, during and after some tense matches over the years, but I’ve never seen Steven Gerrard as emotional as he was after the 3-2 win against Manchester City last weekend.

He knows that, for the first time since he has been at the club, Liverpool are now in the position where they are probably the favourites to win the Premier League. It’s not just fans at Anfield hoping they can do it—people around the country expect them to go on and lift the title.

That’s a different pressure, a different emotion.

Other times in the past, when we won quarter-finals or semi-finals in cup competitions, we were still considered outsiders going into the finals. We always went into those games with a chance—and more often than not we went on to win them—but we were very rarely considered favourites.

If Steven were to win the league this season, it would mean he has pretty much won every single trophy it is possible to win in club football—and there are not too many players who have done that, especially at Liverpool.

I think he showed how much that achievement would mean to him after the final whistle at Anfield. It would be a fitting tribute to an outstanding career.

Clint Hughes

It was always obvious that he was going to be a great player.

When I arrived at Liverpool in 1999 he’d only made a few senior appearances for the club but everyone told me what a special talent he was and that became clear to me pretty much immediately.

He was a very quiet, humble kid but always 100 percent committed in training. It’s one thing doing it behind closed doors at Melwood and quite another doing it in front of 40,000 on matchdays, but he started playing regularly after a few weeks and soon began scoring goals—and just like that he was settled in the first team.

You can never be certain how young players will progress—injuries can derail them, or the early success can go to their heads and lead them into bad habits—but there were never any worries of that happening to Steven.

He was always grounded, he always worked on his game, and it became an honour to play alongside him.

You always try to help the younger players in training, but I never really needed to guide Steven or advise him in any meaningful way. Mostly my advice came on the pitch—trying to point out little details about where he should be positioned, things like that.

Even so, Steven was not really a player who cared much about what people told him, because he was so naturally gifted. After a while you realised that even when he was out of position (which was more than once!) you just had to cover him as much as possible, because that rampaging element was a key part of his game and made him better.

If you restrict players like that too much, such powerful players, then they can easily lose a lot of their edge.

I always wanted to keep him as far away from our own goal because I knew how good he was in the opposing half. It became about balance—you try to guide him and tell him about positioning and discipline, but you also want him to impose his natural gifts on matches as much as possible.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

We played against each other a few times during that period, for England and Germany, but I’m not sure he quite had the same balance with the Three Lions. He seemed a bit more disciplined for England, a bit more cautious. Perhaps where the runs he made for Liverpool were covered by others, for England he could not be so confident.

Playing against him was never easy, though—I far preferred to play alongside him! For me, during that time at Liverpool he was probably the most influential attacking midfielder in the league (and possibly in Europe).

He was once kind enough to say that, when I was alongside him, he was able to focus on bursting forward and effecting things in attack because I was always there to cover him. Well, I did what I could do, but I was never able to do what he did—otherwise I would have done it!

What makes it especially amazing is that now he is the one performing my old role, allowing other players to go forward and express themselves like he once did. It takes a truly special player to evolve like that.

He had a slightly uncertain start at the beginning of the season but, since he’s settled in a bit further back, he has really blossomed in that role.

Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson have helped in that regard; Gerrard clearly has belief in the qualities of those players and so he can relax and concentrate on what he is meant to do in front of the back four.

I was not too sure when Brendan Rodgers first made that move because it is almost exactly the opposite to what he has done over the last 12-15 years and to change your game to a completely different role, especially within a few weeks or month, is not easy.

Yet the way he has taken to it has been absolutely beautiful.

He gives the team balance; Liverpool are a very attacking side and, while he’s got all these flair players around him going forward, his task of balancing the side is probably the most important one.

That’s what impresses me most—they score so many goals, they create so many chances, they commit so many players forward, yet they never look unbalanced at the other end.

Very rarely do they get caught on the counter-attack and that is down to Steven.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In a way he has had to cut out everything he has done in the last 10 years and remodel his game completely. In that position the most important thing is to be disciplined, you have to play that role exactly the same regardless of the score and that must have been a big test for him.

Fortunately Liverpool have not been behind too often this season, but when you are 1-0 down or 2-1 behind the temptation is to think, “I should try something now.” That can be disastrous though, because you might concede another goal because you are desperately running into the final third when you are still supposed to be providing the defensive solidity and stability.

It probably makes it easier that he has a lot of faith in the players ahead of him, and rightly so because they have all been absolutely outstanding over the course of the season.

The change in role will enhance and extend his career because he won’t have as many high-intensity sprints and runs as he would further forward, but in that position you still rely on the players ahead of you.

In that position you try to get team-mates into areas where they can cause damage, but then it is down to them. Most of the season Gerrard has seen his team-mates deliver.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

I always saw the role as about giving team-mates the ball as soon as possible. You have to both see the pass and be able to play it, and if you can give a team-mate the ball half a second earlier than someone else would have done, then you’ve done your job. That gives them that extra time to turn and create something.

If you delay half a second, then an opponent closes them down and they can’t do anything. Gerrard has always ensured he distributes the ball to players quickly and efficiently.

Even so, sometimes in that role you can be a bit helpless; You can give players the best service to turn and do something, but if they still don’t, then they can make you look average as well.

So in a way, you make them and they make you.

Fortunately for Liverpool, Gerrard has been majestic in that role for the last few months—and his team-mates have risen to the challenge and matched him.

If they continue to, the title would be a fitting reward.

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