Ian Rush: Gerrard's loyalty deserves fairytale finale
Towards the end of last season, I joined in a discussion with a group of football people who were talking about Luis Suarez.
It was the suggestion that Luis had secured his status as an all-time Liverpool great that prompted me to speak up. "He's a Kop legend," my friend said. "No he's not," I replied. "Steven Gerrard's a legend. Jamie Carragher is. But Suarez has barely been here a wet week.
"He's brilliant, yes, a world-class player - possibly the best after Messi and Ronaldo. But to be a club legend, you need to spend at least five years with the same team, playing out of your skin, week in and week out. If Suarez stays a while longer, then I'll revisit my opinion."
He didn't. Instead, he's gone and at the end of next month Gerrard will be gone too. But his influence will still be around Anfield. His legacy is secured. Unlike Suarez, there is no argument about Gerrard's status. It's safe.
He's up there as one of the club's all-time greats, not just for what he has won but for the way he carried us singlehandedly through a couple of grim years after 2009. It was Steve Heighway who first mentioned Steven to me. "There's this kid, Ian, he's got everything. The brain. The heart. He's going to be a star."
Now bear in mind Steve brought plenty of stars through during his time at the helm of Liverpool's youth team. Gerrard, Michael Owen and Carragher emerging around about the same time - our equivalent of Manchester United's famous Class of '92.
But Gerrard was the one who excited the most. Why? For me, it was his passion, that will to win, that enthusiasm to be the best, not just on match-day but in every training session.
During Gerard Houllier's tenure, I was brought in as a forwards coach and now and again, we'd work with the midfielders to see if we could improve their long-range shooting.
Basically, there are four or five options to take when you get the ball in an advanced midfield position. So I said my piece, delivered my advice.
They all listened. But Steven only had to be told once. He always made the right choice, whether it was to slip a clever through ball into the path of the forwards, whether it was to try his luck with a long-distance shot. He just knew what was right.
You couldn't say the same about everyone else. Often we'd come back to the same point. We'd discuss different scenarios and provide the solutions. And again, they'd listen. Steven, though, just knew. His tactical awareness is as good as any player's.
In my view, he's the second greatest player in Liverpool's history, behind Kenny Dalglish, and when I think of how Kenny's playing career finished up, with the influential part he played in the 1985/'86 double-winning team, scoring the winning goal at Chelsea that secured the title, I'd love to see Steven get his own fairytale farewell.
He deserves it, not just because of his quality, but also his loyalty. Three times he could have left Liverpool for Chelsea. Three times he said no. Had he went after the 2005 Champions League win then think of the medals he could have won: two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League.
Instead he stayed and Liverpool collected just two trophies in the subsequent decade. Regrets? He has none. He's Liverpool through and through. He knows the club's history, identifies with the fans in the way few players do, and appreciates that the value of a trophy won with your home-town club is worth more than four or five won elsewhere.
I dread to think where Liverpool would be without him because there were years when the team was ordinary. Yes, there were years when it was good too - especially when Fernando Torres and Suarez hit top form.
But those seasons when we finished seventh, had Gerrard (left) not been around, we'd have dropped into the bottom half. He was that influential.
I knew he'd be too. During my time coaching, I'd hear him on the training field. If a player slackened off, if a pass was misplaced, or if the tempo was low, you'd hear him give out.
"This is Liverpool Football Club," I remember him once shouting during a training session. It was derby week. The session needed to improve. Steven's intervention made that happen. We won that week.
Will we win this weekend? It's far from a foregone conclusion. The bookmakers may have placed Arsenal and Liverpool in the FA Cup final but games aren't won by the men laying the odds, rather by the players on the park.
Of late, Aston Villa have picked things up. But it isn't a team they play tomorrow but a cause.
Porto: the model club who continue to defy the odds
How much did you know about Porto before Wednesday's victory over Bayern Munich?
If you are honest, the answer will probably be fairly little. Then two goals from Ricardo Quaresma and a third from Jackson Martinez caused the shock of the season.
And it makes you wonder, how can a club that has never spent more than €15 million on a player can beat Bayern and move so close to the semi-final of the Champions League when all four Premier League clubs cannot even make it to the quarters.
And it comes down to their structures. This is a club that scouts the best up-and-coming talent, nurtures them and then sells them for huge profits. Remember Deco? Bought for €400,000, sold for €15 million.
Or Ricardo Carvalho? Sold for a €30 million profit.
Quaresma has been signed twice, most recently on a free transfer and here he is, in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, scoring two goals. The other goalscorer against Bayern, Jackson Martinez, cost just €9 million when he was signed from Mexican side, Chiapas.
The list goes on. Hulk, Falcao, Eliaquim Mangala all generated a €100 million profit for the club. In so many ways, they are the real deal.