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Portrait of a Hero
By Adam Cottier, Chris Davies
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2007 Adam Cottier, Chris Davies
All rights reserved.
Keeping it 'Pool
'I love Liverpool so much. This is my club. My heart is with Liverpool,' were the sincere words of Steven Gerrard following his decision to end weeks of torment for Liverpool fans and sign a lucrative new contract with his hometown club in July 2005. Less than two months earlier, the inspirational captain, adored by so many, had lifted the European Cup after leading his side to the most unbelievable footballing comeback of all time. However, in the weeks to come, all the joy and jubilation from that incredible night in Istanbul were overshadowed by an episode in Gerrard's career that saw his lifelong ties to Liverpool FC come perilously close to being severed forever.
Gerrard is irreplaceable to Liverpool. He is their modern-day link to the golden age of the 1970s and '80s where home-grown heroes and sparkling silverware ornamented the great football arena that is Anfield. But it is because he is so good and so adept in everything he does, that almost every football team in the world covets his services. However, most simply could not afford to match his near-priceless value. That was until Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire, bought Chelsea in 2004. His arrival signalled a frenzy of multi-million-pound transfer activity at Stamford Bridge and almost all of the world's best players were either linked to, or signed for, the Londoners. Almost inevitably, they courted Liverpool's captain. In 2004, Gerrard turned them down, deciding instead to remain with his beloved, although underachieving, team. And his desire for silverware duly ended, with an unlikely European Cup-winners' medal. However, Liverpool still failed to gain any ground in their bid for an illusive Premiership title. It was only then that Gerrard was forced to think long and hard about leaving Anfield, knowing that if he did so, he would break the hearts of the fans he had made so happy.
Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, frequently affirmed his desire to keep Gerrard on Merseyside and open contract talks with him immediately after Liverpool had returned from the Champions League final. 'How could I leave after this?' the Liverpool captain had said after leading his hometown club to glory on the biggest stage possible. The answer was simple: he would leave if Liverpool wanted the immeasurable amount of money that Chelsea were willing to pay for him.
A year earlier, Michael Owen had left in similar circumstances to sign for Real Madrid – albeit not after winning the Champions League – but Liverpool fans still feared the worst as Gerrard holidayed in Portugal with his girlfriend and his baby daughter amid rumours that the Reds were not about to offer him a new contract.
Liverpool dawdled portentously. So much so that Gerrard came to the point, barely a month after he had experienced the proudest night of his life, where he believed the club he loved so dearly no longer wanted him. Before lifting the European Cup, Gerrard had warned Liverpool that, as much as it would hurt him, he would seek a transfer should the club fail to meet his expectations. He was certainly not expecting to win the Champions League. However, the magic of that triumph had alleviated any doubt as to whether Anfield was the place where he could realise his childhood dreams.
Gerrard's ongoing contract riddle was not the only concern Liverpool had after winning the Champions League. They were initially told that their achievement would not warrant them automatic re-entry into the competition and that they would only feature in the UEFA Cup, as they had finished outside of the Champions League qualifying positions in the Premiership. To the club's relief, however, UEFA decided to allow them back in, but only if they could overcome three allotted rounds of qualifying which would begin in mid-July. That meant that Liverpool had to return to pre-season training early, barely six weeks after the previous season had ended. With increasing doubt surrounding Gerrard's situation, Liverpool fans held their breath as their side began preparations for their first qualifying match.
'The ball's in Liverpool's court now,' said Gerrard, frustrated by the breakdown in communication on the club's part. 'I'm ready to talk and to sort everything out. I'm just waiting for them to give me the nod about where and when, and me and my advisers will be there ... Of course, I want to stay at Liverpool. We haven't spoken about a new contract yet, so I don't know how long the talks will go on for. The sooner we get under way the better, because I want my future sorted out before the season starts.'
Most of Gerrard's unhappiness stemmed from Liverpool's lightning-quick ability to hand Dietmar Hamann a new contract and to tell Vladimir Smicer that he could leave the club, while failing to open contract talks with him before he went on holiday. British newspapers speculated about his future on a daily basis. Real Madrid became the Fleet Street favourite to land the talismanic maestro, closely followed by Chelsea. One story suggested that Madrid were all set to launch a £20 million player-plus-cash bid as well as offering the England star a staggering £150,000 a week for his services. A move to Spain to join David Beckham and Michael Owen looked increasingly likely as the ink pot began to dry up on the Liverpool contract table, until Madrid decided to bolster their star-studded staff with little-known Uruguayan midfielder Pablo Garcia, a player said to possess the same dynamic and industrial abilities of Gerrard. Garcia's arrival at the Bernabeu immediately suggested that Madrid had lost patience with Liverpool.
Gerrard's link to Madrid had emanated due to his ties with SFX, his powerful advisers who had already orchestrated the deals that had taken Michael Owen, Jonathan Woodgate and David Beckham to Spain.
Inevitably, though, it was Chelsea who came the closest to acquiring Gerrard's services in those dark, agonising weeks of uncertainty. The Londoners launched a sizable bid to land the midfield ace amid newspaper rumours of training-ground spats and a tarnished relationship between Gerrard and his manager, Rafa Benitez. The Champions League final seemed light years away – certainly for Liverpool fans – as their captain seemed increasingly destined for the Anfield exit door.
Benitez himself, desperate to preserve Liverpool's future and to allay rumours that he wanted Gerrard to leave, issued an impassioned plea for his captain to remain on Merseyside. It had been thought that, following Gerrard's unerring post-match declaration in Istanbul and Benitez's insistence that he wanted to build his team around his inspirational captain, contract negotiations were just a formality. However, Gerrard and his SFX agent, Struan Marshall, had found Liverpool's hesitancy intolerable. The English midfielder had become convinced that he was unwanted by his employers. Then, on Monday, 4 July 2005, the news arrived that Gerrard and his advisers had called a halt to contract discussions. All of a sudden, the Liverpool heart had stopped beating.
'The last six weeks have been the toughest of my life and it's the hardest decision I have ever had to make,' said Gerrard. 'I fully intended to sign a new contract after the Champions League final, but the events of the last five or six weeks have changed all that. I have too much respect for the club to get involved in a slanging match.'
There seemed to be no way back as Chelsea waded in for the kill with their long-standing target now fully in range. They launched a staggering £32 million bid that same July evening. Rafael Benitez and Rick Parry held an emergency meeting with Gerrard and his agent at the club's Melwood training ground in the hope of reviving discussions over a new contract. Despite their willingness to offer Gerrard a new deal worth more than £90,000 a week, the discussions ended with Anfield officials finally conceding that they had lost the battle to keep their now-want-away captain. An acrimonious separation loomed large with a British record transfer fee set to test the Merseysiders' resolve.
The Reds' only hope of keeping Gerrard rested with the England man himself. The midfielder spent hours mulling over his future and agonising over his decision on Liverpool's contract offer. Newspapers revealed that he had confided in friends that he desperately wanted to stay at Anfield, but that he was concerned that the club wouldn't be strong enough to compete for honours in the forthcoming season. Gerrard was also said to be worried that by signing a deal reportedly worth £100,000 a week, he would consume most of Rafa Benitez's transfer budget and that the club would, therefore, not be able to challenge for the Premiership title. With that the only major honour left for him to accomplish at club level, Chelsea offered an appealing alternative.
Liverpool fans gathered outside Anfield, with some of them even burning shirts to express their disgust at Gerrard's apparent disloyalty. Meanwhile, Chelsea's initial bid was rejected as a sense of urgency encroached on Liverpool's hierarchy to resolve the matter swiftly. The thought of Gerrard returning to Anfield the following season in a blue shirt was, as the Liverpool Echo put it, 'too hideous to contemplate.'
Gerrard's close family and friends had persuaded him to stay with Liverpool following the European Championships the year before and, one year on, they would have to win him over again.
'When I last spoke to him a couple of days ago he seemed as happy as Larry,' revealed Gerrard's grandad, Tony. 'There was no indication that he wanted to leave, so when I heard the news on the radio it came as a complete surprise. But he's twenty-five, a grown man with a baby daughter and he knows what he is doing. His family will support him in whatever he decides to do next.'
Threats of a fans' backlash haunted Gerrard. A relationship between football supporters and their heroes treads a thin line between love and hate. These were the fans that adored him – if he turned his back on them, he knew now that he would lose his iconic status and with it everything that he had ever dreamed of. And why move to Chelsea anyway? What fulfilment would he get from winning the Premiership title with them?
Gerrard, who has always been a family orientated man, was talked out of signing for Chelsea in the summer of 2004 by his father Paul. Although he would have doubled his £60,000-a-week wages, Paul reportedly told his son that if he left Liverpool, then life would become intolerable for the family. The same plea worked again.
On the morning of Wednesday, 6 July, the national newspaper back pages were decorated with talk of Gerrard's imminent transfer to Chelsea. However, by lunchtime, it became very clear that the Liverpool captain had, instead, made an incredible U-turn to remain with the European champions. Merseyside's evening papers broke the news.
'I had the whole of yesterday to think about my decision and what I was doing. I turned off my phone and my television and went through it all in my head again,' revealed Gerrard defiantly, in a press conference. 'I just couldn't leave the club I love'.
In the aftermath, Liverpool and Gerrard himself admitted that they had made mistakes. The twenty-five-year-old had been convinced that Rafa Benitez had secretly wanted to sell him and that that was the only reason why contract negotiations had gone on for so long. Gerrard pleaded for forgiveness for his part in the saga:
In my heart, this is my club. I want to help bring success here for them and, for their sake and my own, I never want to go through this again. The last five or six weeks were the hardest of my life, because I wrongly believed the club didn't want me ... Now I know how much the club want me ... I've only one medal left to win at Liverpool and that's the Premiership. That's what I want more than anything and Liverpool is the only place where I've ever wanted to win it.
Liverpool fans were left stunned: once again they had seen their side come back from the brink of losing something very important. As far as they had been concerned, the divorce papers had been signed and their love affair with Gerrard was over. Instead, the romance was back on and both parties got the chance to renew their vows as Liverpool faced Wrexham in a hastily arranged pre-season game at the Racecourse Ground with the ink still drying on their hero's new contract. It was hardly St Paul's Cathedral, or even Istanbul's Ataturk Stadium for that matter, but it would do for now, as Liverpool put their troubles behind them and embarked on a new season.
Gerrard had committed himself to Liverpool until 2009. Thus, the Reds' heart began to beat again as all speculation surrounding the midfielder's future came to an abrupt end. Chelsea's 'consolation' prize came in the form of Manchester City sensation Shaun Wright-Phillips. Had Liverpool lost Steven Gerrard, if Liverpool ever do lose Steven Gerrard, there would have been no consolation – his remarkable talent is unique.
The extraordinary transfer saga was cast aside by the Liverpool fans, who were simply relieved that their most integral player had decided to stay. Gerrard paraded the Champions League trophy to the crowd before the Reds' game with Wrexham alongside Jamie Carragher, who had also joined him in penning a new deal.
Soon after, Liverpool and their fans were given a timely reminder of exactly how valuable Gerrard was to them. Making his 284th appearance in a Red shirt, Gerrard found the perfect solution to eradicate the demons of the summer by scoring his first-ever hat-trick for Liverpool in a Champions League qualifying tie against Welsh minnows Total Network Solutions at Anfield. In doing so, he put his beloved side back on the long road to success and set about writing another chapter in a truly extraordinary career.CHAPTER 2
The city of Liverpool will never forget 1980. It was, of course, the year in which legendary Beatle John Lennon met his untimely death. Yet it was also the year that a small community of Merseyside welcomed a new arrival – a person who would, one day, realise the same kind of iconic status that Lennon had embraced on Merseyside.
Steven George Gerrard was born on Friday, 30 May 1980 at Whiston hospital in the borough of Knowsley, on the eastern outskirts of Liverpool, the second son of Paul Gerrard and his wife Julie.
That same month also saw the birth of two other individuals who would go on to become sporting champions in their own right. Both tennis heroine Venus Williams and Brazilian football superstar Ronaldinho were born within days of Gerrard. Indeed, there was a champion feeling in the Liverpool-mad Gerrard family. The Reds, led by Bob Paisley, had just been crowned title winners in England for the twelfth time.
You see, football has always been an innate passion on Merseyside – a welcome escape from the working-class world that encompasses so many of Liverpool's inhabitants. Almost from the moment they are born, children are laden with the dilemma of which one of the city's' two big football teams to follow. It's either Liverpool or Everton and, in the 1980s, that was no easy decision to make. Naturally, young Gerrard chose studiously.
Whether it is a pop star, a television personality or a footballer, every child has a hero; somebody to look up to; someone who can fuel their dreams. For Gerrard and his contemporaries, that person was always going to be a footballer. In the mid-1980s, Everton had stars, but it was Liverpool who had the superstars that youngsters saw as their idols. If the radiant abilities of Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness didn't sway Gerrard, then the timing of Liverpool's triumphs did.
Everton were successful in the 1980s – the most successful they have ever been – but in Gerrard's lifetime, Liverpool were the first to win a European trophy. The Reds were domestically dominant throughout the decade; they were unequivocally the best team in the land. And it was their European Cup success of 1984 that probably swung Gerrard in the red direction, igniting a love affair that would last a lifetime. The Rome final fell on what was his fourth birthday – Wednesday, 30 May 1984. How his infant eyes must have sparkled that night as Graeme Souness, the Liverpool captain of the time, inspired the Reds to beat Roma on penalties and then lift the giant, gleaming trophy.
Excerpted from Steven Gerrard by Adam Cottier, Chris Davies. Copyright © 2007 Adam Cottier, Chris Davies. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Keeping it 'Pool,
2 Born Red,
3 From Bambi to Bison,
4 Allez Gerrard and Houllier,
5 Country Boy,
6 Triple the Glory, Minus the Injury,
7 Heartbreak High,
8 Tough at the Kop,
9 Captain's Honour,
10 Stevie Wonder,
11 Turkish Delight – The Champions League Final: 25 May 2005,
12 Captain Courageous,
13 The World Cup 2006,
14 So Close,
15 Personal Professional,
16 A Story Only Half Told,