Men in Red (Part 1) Babasola Opaneye December 15, 2016 Zero - Zero If ever there was one person who captured the very essence of the Kop, an individual who was an embodiment of the passion and intensity that is characteristic of football in the red half of Merseyside, it would definitely be Steven George Gerrard. A kop to the core, he joined the Liverpool academy aged nine and made his first team debut in November 1998, eventually becoming club captain in 2003. If Tony Adams is seen as Mr Arsenal and John Terry as Mr Chelsea, then Steven Gerrard is definitely Mr Liverpool. On November 24, 2016 Steven Gerrard announced his retirement from football. Lots of people were quick to send a lot of deserved plaudits his way, for he remains one of the icons of the English game. As a player, he had all the ingredients every good midfielder should possess; he could pass, shoot, dribble and tackle, with an incredible set piece ability as well as versatility. Added to this mix was a great desire to cover every blade of grass, an incredible will to win and excellent leadership abilities. These qualities meant he was every manager’s dream, a real midfield general. He was also very intelligent and passionate about football, Liverpool in particular, and he always demonstrated this on and off the pitch in many ways; including putting his body on the line on several occasions, and being ever ready to be all and anything Liverpool needed him to be- player, sometimes the whole team, coach, fan, even an unofficial spokesman and scout on certain occasions. He is also a player who commanded huge respect from both teammates and rivals alike; someone a lot of players looked up to. One moment that perfectly sums up Gerrard’s huge contribution at Liverpool is that magical night in Istanbul against AC Milan, when he inspired Liverpool to UEFA Champions’ League glory in 2005. Amongst his many outstanding qualities, one that stands out the most is his dedication and loyalty. There have been many one club men (Gerrard himself isn’t part of that exclusive company, his one and a half season stint at LA Galaxy denting that record). However amongst these men, one readily stands out: Francesco Totti; for the same reason Steven Gerrard has rightly been idolized by Liverpool: loyalty in difficult times. It’s easier to be loyal when you are a Ryan Giggs or Lionel Messi; when the team’s achievements consistently match your talent and ambition, but in Gerrard’s case it was quite different. He was a world class player, maybe not particularly in raw talent, but in consistently turning out high quality performances, comparable with the very best in his generation. He also had no shortage of suitors from Europe’s biggest clubs throughout his career. Yet he chose to stick with the club. This is truly admirable With Gerrard, there are two major regrets; one is his failure to lead Liverpool to the premier league title; there were close shaves though, most notably in 2014, the season that he himself would never forget, especially because of THAT slip. The other is on the international scene with England: the collective failure of the golden generation to land any silverware. The news of his retirement brought up expected comparisons with Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard, two other great English midfielders. Most of them were unfavorable, and this is quite unfair to him. He might not have the stats of Lampard, or the medals of Scholes but he was not inferior to either of them. He could have decided to play for better teams, thus improving his statistics and increasing his trophy haul but he chose to remain at Liverpool. In spite of this, he hasn’t done too badly. In 2005, Gerrard was honoured as the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or Bronze Award. He also won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2006 and the FWA Footballer of the Year in 2009. He has been named in the PFA Team of the Year for a record eight times, and in the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA World XI three times. Added to all these is the incredible honour of being captain for both club and country. Not bad for someone who Sir Alex Ferguson once said wasn’t a top player. Even though it might not have ended as he wanted it to at Liverpool, he remains a firm fans’ favourite. He has indicated a desire to go into management, and should surely be offered some role at Liverpool. Whatever he decides to do, he should enjoy deserved rest for now. He has earned it.