Steven Gerrard's drive for glory marks him out as a football great
Published 24/11/2016 | 11:36
By his own measure, he is not a "legend" - nor will he ever be.
But it is only now Steven Gerrard has gone, having called time on his playing career, that the realisation will dawn that the game has lost arguably the most influential player of England's golden generation.
Other players may have racked up more appearances or more goals but none have so singularly and directly affected as many games as Gerrard.
He made more than 700 appearances for boyhood club Liverpool and won 114 England caps but the all-action midfielder was never defined by numbers: it was all about his tremendous ability being allied to physical and mental strength and an over-riding drive to win that propelled him to the very top of the game.
The one criticism always aimed at Gerrard is that he never won a league title - but that was more a reflection on the team he was playing in rather than himself.
Had he not been so intensely loyal, turning down the chance to move to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea on more than one occasion, he would almost certainly now have that one winner's medal he so craved.
But Gerrard knew in his heart there would be more lifetime satisfaction by staying true to his heart at the club he loved.
Even Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson tried to woo Gerrard at that time, describing him as "the most influential player in England, bar none - more than (Patrick) Vieira'', in an attempt to persuade him to take over from Roy Keane in United's midfield, though Ferguson must have known that any such approach was doomed to failure.
Gerrard's honesty and integrity made him adored by the Liverpool fans he had grown up alongside and admired by neutrals and many rivals.
In the long list of football's 'what-might-have-been' moments, one ponders if his presence in the England midfield at the 2002 World Cup - injury kept him out of the tournament - might have made the crucial difference to a side that only months before he had helped thrash Germany 5-1 in Munich.
His trophy cabinet is impressive enough however: two FA Cups, a UEFA Cup, three League Cups and not least the 2005 Champions League, when Gerrard almost single-handedly roused Liverpool from the depths of despair and a 3-0 half-time deficit against AC Milan to inspire the Reds to victory.
A year later he was the influential force in the FA Cup final victory over West Ham, once more dredging up one last remnant of game-changing quality from his exhausted body to score a brilliant added-time equaliser which allowed Liverpool to go on and lift the cup.
For all of Gerrard's stupendous displays, there was also a curious vulnerability that occasionally emerged, a reminder that this all-action hero was also human.
Against France in Euro 2004, it was his backpass that was intercepted by Thierry Henry, who was then hauled down for the penalty that saw Les Bleus take a barely-deserved 2-1 win.
Some 10 years later, it was another Gerrard mistake that became the defining moment of the 2013-14 season. Hi s slip against Chelsea allowed Demba Ba to score - and Liverpool's hopes of winning a first Premier League title began to trickle away.
It would be churlish for that to be the abiding memory of Gerrard's wonderful contribution to English football, for the good far outweighed the bad.
A few years ago, Gerrard tried to downplay his position in the pantheon of heroes, saying: "In football, the 'hero' and 'legend' status is given out far too easily for my liking. As far as playing for England goes, there are only 11 real heroes over history (referring to the team which won the 1966 World Cup).''
The MLS got a watered-down version of Gerrard, now in his mid-30s, during his 18-month spell with Los Angeles Galaxy for whom he never came close to matching some of the moments, let alone the form, he had shown in his pomp at Anfield.
But, again, that should not be taken into consideration when assessing his overall contribution to the game.
Gerrard's spell in the Californian sunshine was for his benefit, not ours, but he left us with more than enough memories to reflect on.