IT was great to be in one of London’s top hotels last Sunday evening to see Steven Gerrard receive a series of well-earned accolades from Liverpool heroes, past and present, as well as from the professionals who have watched his career from press boxes the world over.
The Football Writers’ Association Annual Tribute Evening made the Liverpool and England captain the recipient of this year’s special event – and a packed room at the famous Savoy Hotel, who had braved the day’s Arctic blast, listened as a stream of glowing testimonials came his way.
Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier spoke of the three levels of attainment for a modern top player in this country – Premier League class, international class and world class. The Frenchman, who gave Gerrard his Liverpool debut back in 1998, firmly put the Liverpool star in the third category, a valuation richly endorsed in a taped sequence by Houllier’s countryman, French World Cup winning star, Zinedine Zidane. A world class talent recognising a world class talent.
Gary McAllister then got up on stage to say how Gerrard, as a very young man, had helped him, a player then in the glorious autumn of his career, settle in at Anfield and make his life on the field that bit easier for that bit longer.
Perhaps the most poignant tribute came from Gerrard’s long-time Liverpool team-mate, Jamie Carragher.
He spoke eloquently and sincerely about his friend and proffered the view that Gerrard had now earned the mantle of being Liverpool’s greatest-ever player, with due respect to Kenny Dalglish of course.
Carragher made the point that Gerrard had played in less star-studded Liverpool sides, and he also suggested, with a neat turn of phrase, that his pal’s key strength was he had no weakness, and that he was an inspirational player who could turn a game in Liverpool’s favour in a moment.
Indeed, that’s what makes players world class. Carragher brought to life Gerrard’s game-changing moments against Olympiakos, AC Milan and West Ham. To the Red faithful, those games need no further explanation.
Tellingly, Carragher said that while he and Gerrard had both been lauded as great one-club men, it had been easier for the defender because, down the years, he hadn’t had some of the world’s greatest club sides interested in taking him on a career-diverting route. Gerrard had been subject to those opportunities – and had chosen, despite being seriously tempted on one occasion, to stay on the red route, every time.
When it came to Gerrard’s time to talk to the audience, sprinkled with football’s household names including a Liverpool FC contingent that included Tom Werner, Brendan Rodgers, Ian Ayre, Ian Rush and comedian John Bishop, he spoke quietly and determinedly of his ambitions for both Liverpool and England. On a chilly night, the sincerity of his message must have warmed the evening for Rodgers and the England manager, Roy Hodgson, also in attendance.
Both men will have registered that their super-talented captain is now surrounded by English team-mates, at club level as well as obviously for the national side.
His Anfield club-mates could now include an outfield line-up that is all English, very strong and a great mix of youth and experience. And nine of them are full internationals.
Perhaps the classiest part of the evening came towards its end when Gerrard took the trouble to walk around the room and visit every table.
It was a lovely touch and warmly appreciated by the audience, both the serious professionals from the worlds of football and journalism, and the guests who just wanted a photograph or an autograph.
It was the touch of a great Liverpool and England captain – more importantly, the touch of a decent grounded bloke.
A world class touch actually.
He told me as he passed by that he had been absolutely blown away by the evening but his under-stated, humble response to peons of praise spoke volumes for his character.
Zinedine Zidane was spot on.