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Is Steven Gerrard the Best Player Liverpool Have Ever Had?

Jon FeatonbyCorrespondent IJune 18, 2016

Is Steven Gerrard the Best Player Liverpool Have Ever Had?

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    After Steven Gerrard's stunning hat-trick on Thursday night, coming off the bench to inspire Liverpool to a 3-1 win over Napoli in the Europa league, Jamie Carragher hailed his captain's performance and described him as "the best player we've ever had."

    Carragher then went further, adding that the England midfielder is "the most influential player ever in the Premier League."

    For a club with a history as storied as Liverpool's, Carragher's claim is a pretty big one.

    Liverpool have won 18 Championships, five European Cups, seven FA Cups and seven League Cups. Add to this three UEFA Cups, and you get the picture of how successful Liverpool have been.

    I wanted to look at some of the players who were key to this success and compare their Anfield careers to that of Gerrard.

Kevin Keegan

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    Don Morley/Getty Images

    Appearances: 323

    Goals: 100

    Honours: Nine

    • League title: 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77
    • European Cup: 1977
    • UEFA Cup: 1973, 1976
    • FA Cup: 1974
    • FA Charity Shield: 1974, 1976

    Kevin Keegan defined what it was to be a footballing icon during the 1970s.

    After signing him for £35,000 from Scunthorpe in 1971, manager Bill Shankly described the piece of business as "robbery with violence."

    Originally signed as a central-midfielder, Keegan soon forced himself into a more advanced position, forming a deadly partnership with John Toshack. Keegan quickly became a Kop favourite, scoring within 13 minutes of his debut against Nottingham Forest.

    In his second season at the club, Keegan led Liverpool to domestic and European success. A first league title in seven years was won, and his two goals in the first-leg of the UEFA Cup final would prove crucial as Liverpool emerged 3-2 aggregate winners.

    Another league and UEFA Cup double was achieved in 1976, but the following season would prove to be one of the most memorable in club history.

    The season started badly, with Keegan announcing that it would be his last at the club before joining German side Hamburg.

    While some fans questioned his loyalty, Keegan still finished with 20 goals in all competitions. Another league title was won, and this was followed by a disappointing 2-1 FA Cup final defeat at the hands of rivals Manchester United. But the best was still to come.

    Four nights after the FA Cup final, Keegan emerged as man of the match as Liverpool won their first European Cup, beating Borussia Moenchengladbach, 3-1.

    Keegan went on to be named European Footballer of the Year during his time in Germany, but he will always be remembered on Merseyside for the six great seasons he spent at Anfield.

Kenny Dalglish

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Appearances: 515

    Goals: 172

    Honours: 20

    • League title: 1978-79, 1979-1980, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86
    • European Cup: 1978, 1981, 1984
    • FA Cup: 1986
    • League Cup: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984
    • Charity Shield: 1978 (shared), 1980, 1981, 1983, 1987 (shared)
    • European Super Cup: 1978

    After nine immensely successful seasons at Celtic, Kenny Dalglish was signed by Liverpool for a then-British record fee of £440,000.

    Brought to replace departing legend Kevin Keegan, Dalglish immediately set about creating his own legend, scoring inside the first 10 minutes of his debut against Middlesborough.

    He finished his first season at Anfield as the club's top scorer, and scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over FC Bruges as Liverpool sealed their second European Cup success.

    League titles followed in the next two seasons. Then, in 1980, Liverpool signed an 18-year-old Welsh forward named Ian Rush.

    Rush and Dalglish would go on to form a devastating partnership, powering the club through its most successful era. 

    After the retirement of Joe Fagan following the 1984-85 season, Dalglish was named as player-manager. 

    In his first season in charge, Liverpool completed their only league and cup double, with Dalglish himself scoring the goal that sealed the title on the last day of the season.

    Over the next few seasons, Dalglish's role as player decreased and his finally hung up his boots at the age of 39. But he proved to be a successful manager, bringing John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to the club. He added two further league titles, fully cementing his place as the King of the Kop.

    With a track record like his, it's not surprising that he was many fans' first choice to take over as manager following Benitez's departure over the summer. 

Ian Callaghan

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Appearances: 857

    Goals: 68

    Honours: 18

    • League titles: 1963-64, 1965-66, 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77
    • European Cup: 1977, 1978
    • UEFA Cup: 1973, 1976
    • FA Cup: 1965, 1974
    • European Super Cup: 1977
    • FA Charity Shield: 1964 (Shared), 1965 (Shared), 1966, 1974, 1976, 1977 (Shared)

    No one has ever made more appearances for Liverpool Football Club than Ian Callaghan, and it's very doubtful that anyone ever will.

    Callaghan joined the club as an apprentice in 1960 and was part of the team that won promotion to the top flight in 1962. 

    In their second year back in the first division, Liverpool won the league title, and the following season Callaghan set up the winner in a 2-1 FA Cup win over Leeds.

    The 1977 European Cup success completed an amazing journey for Callaghan, who had played in Liverpool's first European match 13 years earlier.

Ian Rush

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Appearances: 660

    Goals: 346

    Honours: 20

    • League title: 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1989-90
    • European Cup: 1981, 1984
    • FA Cup: 1986, 1989, 1992
    • League Cup: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1995
    • Charity Shield: 1982, 1986 (shared), 1989, 1990 (shared)

    In two spells at the club—either side of a one-year spell in Italy with Juventus—Ian Rush was known for one thing and one thing only.

    His ability to score goals.

    Signed for £300,000 as an 18-year-old, Rushie took a couple seasons to make his way into the first team. But when he did, what an impact he had.

    In his second season at the club, he formed a sparkling partnership with Kenny Dalglish and finished with 30 goals in 49 appearances as Liverpool won the league and the League Cup.

    Rush again reached the 30-goal mark the following season before reaching both a personal and club high in 1983-84.

    Rush scored 47 goals in all competitions, in the process becoming the first British player to win the European Golden Boot. He was also awarded the PFA Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year as Liverpool achieved the treble of league, League Cup and European Cup.

    A player who naturally knew where the goal was, Rush attracted the attention of a number of European clubs and joined Juventus for the 1987-88 season.

    After a tough time in Italy—"It's like living in a foreign country"—he returned to Anfield but was behind Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge, the man bought to replace him, in the pecking order.

    But his class soon won him back his starting place and scored twice in a 3-2 victory over Everton to clinch another FA Cup.

    Rush finished his Liverpool career at the end of the 1996 season as Liverpool's all-time top scorer. No one has more goals in Merseyside derbies (25) or FA Cup finals (five), and the £300,000 Liverpool paid for him in 1980 remains a record fee for The Seals.

Alan Hansen

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    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    Appearances: 620

    Goals: 14

    Honours: 22

    • League titles: 1978-79, 1979-80, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-1984, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1989-90
    • European Cups: 1978, 1981, 1984
    • FA Cup: 1986, 1989
    • League Cup: 1981, 1983, 1984
    • FA Charity Shield: 1978 (shared), 1980, 1981, 1983, 1987 (shared), 1990

    Alan Hansen joined Liverpool from Scottish team Partick Thistle in the summer of 1977, and would go on to amass one of the finest collection of medals in football.

    During the 1978-79 league-winning season, Hansen forced Liverpool legend Emlyn "Crazy Horse" Hughes out of the first team. Liverpool conceded just 16 league goals during the campaign.

    Hansen remained an integral part of the Liverpool team during the 1980s, known as a centre-back who was more than capable on the ball and for his ability to stay cool under pressure. He formed a formidable defensive partnership with Mark Lawrenson, and was awarded the club captaincy when Dalglish took over as player/manager. 

    At the end of his first season with the armband, Liverpool clinched a domestic league and cup double, although Hansen was then left out of Scotland's 1986 World Cup squad—much to the confusion of many.

    As the 80s became the 90s, Hansen became blighted by knee injuries, and in 1991 he announced the end of his playing career.

    He has since gone on to became a well-respected football pundit—often sitting next to his one-time defensive colleague Lawrenson—but has said that he's not interested in coaching or management, despite being linked with the Liverpool top job on a number of occasions.

Steven Gerrard

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Appearances: 544

    Goals: 139

    Honours: 10

    • European Cup: 2005
    • FA Cup: 2001, 2006
    • League Cup: 2001, 2003
    • UEFA Cup: 2001
    • UEFA Super Cup: 2001, 2005
    • FA Community Shield: 2001, 2006

    After a disappointing 1990s that saw Liverpool struggling to finish in mid-table positions, the club were waiting for the next legend to emerge.

    Steven Gerrard was that man.

    Despite an difficult start to his Liverpool career, which was marred with nervous play, back problems and ill discipline on the pitch, Gerrard quickly emerged as a key player at Anfield.

    In 2000-01, Gerrard scored 10 times in 50 starts as Liverpool won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup. After another consistent season, he was given the captain's armband at the age of 23—an honour he has not relinquished since. 

    Despite his turning down a £20 million move to Chelsea at the end of a trophy-less 2003-04 season, rumours surrounding the midfielder's future would not subside. But Liverpool's fortunes were on the up, and the next season saw Liverpool once again gaining European glory.

    Gerrard was instrumental in getting Liverpool to the final, scoring a crucial goal against Olympiacos to get past the group stages. And then, after being 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan, Gerrard inspired an amazing comeback, scoring one and then creating the equaliser.

    Widely acknowledged as one of the most complete players in world football, the one medal Gerrard lacks is a league winners medal. Speculation over his future continues as his talent certainly deserves more success than Liverpool are currently able to give him. But he has remained loyal to Liverpool and will be instrumental in rebuilding the club under Roy Hodgson and NESV.

Comparing Stevie

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    So, how does Gerrard stack up against these other Liverpool greats?

    Well, there is no question that he doesn't have the silverware the others do. But that is not the fault of Gerrard. No player has been as consistently brilliant in English football over the last 10 years.

    It would be foolish to try to list the number of times Gerrard has single-handedly grabbed his team by the scruff of the neck and inspired a Liverpool victory. His goal-scoring record as a midfielder speaks for itself, and he is rightly admired around the world.

    The simple fact is that he hasn't had the players around him to compete for honours year-in, year-out. It is no coincidence that Liverpool's most successful period was when numerous legends were playing for the club and for long periods of time.

    It's difficult to truly judge current players against their predecessors; you often don't fully appreciate what you have until it's gone.

    But there is no doubt that Gerrard will become a Kop legend—he already is one. I think it's right to speak about him in the same breath as Rush, Keegan, Hansen et al.

    Dalglish will always be the King of the Kop, but Gerrard will sit comfortably at his right hand. 

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