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gerrard leaves lasting legacy

By his own measure, he is not a "legend", nor ever will he be.

But when Steven Gerrard leaves Liverpool at the end of the season after 26 years at the club as man and boy, he will be remembered as perhaps the most influential player of England's golden generation.

The statistics alone speak volumes - by the time he bids adieu to Anfield he will have notched up more than 500 league appearances to go with his 114 England caps.

But Gerrard has always been more than just about numbers. His tremendous ability has been allied to physical and mental strength and an over-riding drive to win that propelled him to the very top of the game.

And for good measure, he is intensely loyal, having turned down approach after approach from the biggest clubs in the world in order to stay with the club he has always loved.

MISSED OUT

It meant that he has missed out league titles that would certainly have come his way had he caved in to Jose Mourinho's entreaties to move to Chelsea in 2004 - the closest he ever came to leaving Liverpool - but Gerrard knew in his heart that there would be more lifetime satisfaction by staying true to his heart.

Even 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", an attempt to persuade him to take over from Roy Keane in Manchester 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.

STUPENDOUS

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 back-pass 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. It was his slip against Chelsea which 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.

Instead, retain visions of that right leg arching back and then delivering another howitzer of a shot into the net; or a driving run leaving all in his wake, a charging header, a voluptuous volley.

Two 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."

But when Gerrard runs out for the last time at Anfield, before his sensible swan song overseas, he will have demonstrated that he is at least worthy of a place on the bench.


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