All over the world there are budding young footballers who dream of reaching the top, fanatic fans who fantasize about one day representing the club they love and inspiring your side to success.
Rarely has a footballer lived out childhood dreams in a way like Steven Gerrard, a footballer who became an emblem of the childhood team. Liverpool and arguably the greatest player to have graced the club’s red colours.
Gerrard grew up a die-hard supporter of his hometown team in an era when Liverpool dominated both at home and abroad, but the version of the team in which he emerged from the academy ranks paled in comparison to the trophy-winning teams of yesteryear. .
The 1990s had been a difficult time for Liverpool, struggling to regularly contend for the silver medal, arch-rivals Manchester United replacing the Reds as England’s dominant force as trophy after trophy headed to the opposite end of the East Lancs Road in the early 1990s. first league it was.
However, hope was raised when a group of local youngsters made a good impression on the senior team; Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen among those to emerge before Gerrard’s arrival at the senior side.
Each caused great excitement among the Anfield faithful, but none resonated with supporters quite like Gerrard in the peak years of his career, a player who often carried only the weight of expectation on his shoulders.
After breaking into the team in the late 1990s, he became an integral part of Gerard Houllier’s side at the turn of the millennium, being named the PFA Young Player of the Year after helping Liverpool achieve a treble of success in the cup in 2000/01.
He continued to grow in stature and status as Liverpool made their first foray into the Champions League, returning to the elite of club football the following season after more than a decade of stagnation.
Gerrard’s early seasons saw him become a whirlwind of energy and aggressiveness from frame to frame, his unwavering determination to succeed at times saw him cross the line and become reckless and reckless.
Houllier, however, knew he had a star among his ranks and appointed Gerrard as captain, replacing the older Sami Hyypia and assuming the armband permanently at just 23 years old.
While Houllier undoubtedly played a major role in his development, it was his successor Rafael Benítez who enjoyed the best years of his career, his first campaign in charge seeing Gerrard prove inspiring as Liverpool beat the odds to win the Champions League. in impressive style.
Images of Gerrard hoisting club football’s biggest prize are ingrained in club folklore, but it was his performance in the FA Cup final a year later that perhaps defined the midfielder’s career.
Liverpool met West Ham in the FA Cup final which was held at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, a ground where the Reds had been very successful in previous seasons and Benítez’s side entered the clash as firm favourites.
However, it turned out far from the procession some were hoping for, as Liverpool needed their real-life Roy of Rovers to drag them through a South Wales thriller.
The afternoon could hardly have started worse for Liverpool, as Jamie Carragher inadvertently gave West Ham the lead, the defender unable to command his feet and deflecting Lionel Scaloni’s cross into his own net.
Seven minutes later, it was two o’clock.
Pepe Reina continued a nervous start for the Reds and spilled Matthew Etherington’s low shot, allowing Dean Ashton to convert the rebound and spark delirium among Hammer’s contingent at the other end of the field.
Liverpool needed an instant answer and they got it, Gerrard’s exquisite long pass from inside West Ham helping Djibril Cissé convert the goal midway through the deficit before half-time.
Buoyed by his response, Benítez’s side equalized just nine minutes after the restart and it was Gerrard who leveled the proceedings, slamming an unstoppable finish that gave Shaka Hislop no chance.
Xabi Alonso’s lofted pass was buffered by the imposing Peter Crouch, with Gerrard reacting first to the loose ball to fire a ferocious half-volley past the keeper.
Gerrard had dragged a subpar Liverpool back into contention on one of football’s biggest stages, but would have to dig in again after West Ham showed their own courage to retake the lead.
Paul Konchesky’s failed cross evaded everyone to get into the net, beating Reina to leave Liverpool with just 26 minutes left to avoid an ignominious defeat at Cardiff.
As the seconds ticked by in a draw seemed increasingly unlikely, Liverpool continually drifted forward behind a packed West Ham defence.
For all the fuss over the Reds’ advancement options, the Hammers had an answer, and the resistance Claret and Blue looked poised to cause one of the big cup final upsets.
That was, of course, until a stunning strike from Gerrard’s boot changed the course of FA Cup Final history.
The midfielder had been seen visibly struggling with cramps as the final moments approached, a throbbing end-to-end clash on a sunny afternoon in South Wales that drained every ounce of energy from the Liverpool captain.
When the stadium announcer at Millennium Stadium announced a minimum of four minutes of extra time, the narrative changed dramatically.
John Arne Riise’s hopeful clearance into the West Ham box was headed clear with the rebounding ball tantalizingly falling to Gerrard some 35 yards from goal.
What followed was an execution of perfect technique as the Reds captain scored a marvelous effort for the first time, a strike of implausible precision and power that whistled past Hislop to force extra time.
Liverpool needed a hero and found one in their inspiring number eight.
Both teams squandered chances in added time to snatch the trophy, leading to the penalty shootout lottery after 120 minutes of breathless action.
For the second season in a row, Liverpool had come back from the brink to draw a grand final 3-3 and history would repeat itself as the Reds held their nerve from the spot.
Gerrard was one of three Liverpool scorers from the point when Reina’s redemption was completed by saves from Bobby Zamora, Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand, Liverpool were crowned winners in Cardiff after one of the greatest cup finals of all time. .
“I was looking at my teammates, I could see there wasn’t much left. I thought, ‘we’re done, it’s over’.
“Usually, this far away, I would try to open up the play to get a cross and think about the team, but I was so tired I thought, I’m going to play.”
Good players are capable of winning moments, but great players produce them when it really matters most.
Amid the pressure, Gerrard was a player who often thrived, his virtuoso performance in the FA Cup final making him the first, and so far only, player in history to score in Premier League deciders. Champions, the UEFA Cup, the League Cup and the FA Cup. .
Gerrard’s performance in that 2006 FA Cup final was one of many that forged his legend at Anfield, a performance that ensures the masterpiece will forever be remembered as ‘Gerrard’s final’.
It’s a fitting tribute to a player who often fulfilled the dreams he shared with Liverpool fans, perhaps never more so than his inspiring return to Cardiff.