LIVERPOOL manager Kenny Dalglish believes captain Steven Gerrard could continue playing well into his late 30s if his fitness holds out.
The England midfielder, who will be 32 in May, signed an extension to his existing deal yesterday but has already said he is looking to go beyond his current contract.
Dalglish admits fitness will play a big part - Gerrard's last year has been dogged by a groin problem which required surgery and then an ankle infection - but sees no reason why the talismanic skipper cannot emulate Manchester United's Ryan Giggs.
"You have to wait and see how they get through injuries," said the Scot.
"Giggs is 38, isn't he? That's seven years down the line - that's a long time to predict - but if he's fit there's no reason why not.
"I've not got a crystal ball. I'm just delighted he's done what he's done and we have got him here."
Dalglish has always been considered Liverpool's greatest player but the Reds boss believes Gerrard must now come into the reckoning.
"I wouldn't disagree he has certainly made a huge contribution to the club but he wouldn't be far away from being mentioned as the best player," he added.
"It is not just what he does in and around the first team it is what he stands for the football club as well - which is more important.
"His standing within the community is fantastic and the way he does other work happily is a great testimony to himself as well."
Gerrard has admitted he was offered a new contract last year but refused to sign it until he had returned to playing and could prove his fitness problems were behind him.
"I was down in the dumps at the time and for them to offer me the contract extension was the boost I needed," he told the Liverpool Echo.
"Everyone at the club supported me so well. I agreed the extension a long time ago, I was always going to sign it, but I told them I wanted to wait until I had proved my fitness.
"I didn't think it was right to sign when I was out injured.
"I wanted to wait until I was back out there and had shown people that the injuries were all behind me."
Gerrard confirmed he would see out his career at Anfield, after which time he will take up an ambassadorial role.
"I can only see myself playing for Liverpool Football Club now," he added.
"I'm very flattered that the club have offered me the chance to stay on after my playing days.
"Hopefully I can stay involved with the club and set the right example for youngsters coming through but that ambassadorial role may have to wait for a while.
"There's still a great deal I want to achieve as a player."
Gerrard is sure to get a noisier-than-usual welcome when he leads the team out at home to Stoke tomorrow as Liverpool look to build on the positives of a midweek Carling Cup semi-final first leg victory over Manchester City, their second successive knockout win after defeating Oldham in the FA Cup a week ago.
The captain scored penalties in both those games but the Barclays Premier League now takes precedence and Dalglish is looking for his side to build on their last home success against Newcastle in late December having struggled at Anfield this season.
Stoke have proved already they are capable of causing Liverpool problems with a win at the Britannia Stadium in September but the Reds returned a month later in the Carling Cup and won.
Asked what he had learned from the two encounters Dalglish said: "If you don't score any goals, you don't get any points if you lose one at the other end.
"Every team brings a different problem and we have to deal with the problems we anticipate they'll bring.
"But they've also got to deal with our strengths and we've got a lot of them."
After Gerrard and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini got into a row about Glen Johnson's two-footed tackle in midweek Dalglish said he was just looking for consistency from referees.
"The discussion is not about one person's tackle against the other it is about consistency and interpretation of tackles," he said.
"There are always going to be inconsistencies and human error but there are laws within the game which are as clear as mud."