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The evolution of Steven Gerrard as told by those who have witnessed it

Melissa Reddy
·14-min read
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (Getty)
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (Getty)

“At his peak he was the best in the world,” was Zinedine Zidane’s assessment. Francesco Totti would circle him as “the captain of my World XI dream team.” For Paolo Maldini, “his story is one of those stories to be told, one of those fairytales, to be narrated to your children and grandchildren.”

Steven Gerrard first walked through Liverpool’s academy doors as an eight-year-old, and by the time he last exited it to become manager of Rangers, he’d established himself as one of the finest footballers the game has seen.

Those who witnessed his evolution from gifted kid to world-class player, captain extraordinaire, youth coach and are now following his embryonic career in the dugout, which has already led to a first title, exclusively detail his standout traits to The Independent.

Hugh McAuley

Was responsible for Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence, where he coached Gerrard from the age of eight.

When I see Steven, it’s almost as if we go back to that time when he was just a young boy because he has all the same qualities. His personality has not changed from the Steven Gerrard that came from Whiston Juniors and was desperate to play for Liverpool to the Steven Gerrard that became one of the best players in the world and is now an exciting young manager.

Getty
Getty

When we text or meet each other, it’s like we last spoke yesterday because everything is really easy with him. He cares deeply for people and that was evident when he first came to Liverpool’s academy and it’s a trait that remained regardless of all his success.

I’ve worked for his foundation and there are a lot of charity causes that he supports and good work that he does very quietly. He gives back without any fuss and has never forgotten where he’s come from.

Because of his dynamic football style, people may think that Steven is loud and the centre of attention, but that’s far from the case. He’s a deep-thinker, is quiet and really let his football speak loudest. He was a leader in terms of bringing the best out of his teammates and taking care of them rather than needing to generate fear.

From a very young age, Steven always wanted to influence the game as much as he could. He was very competitive, he always wanted to be the best player on the field and had ultimate confidence in what he could do. He could run the ball himself, he could pick any kind of pass, he could score all types of goals, he’d track back – he was really complete as a kid, which we got to see throughout his career.

Rex
Rex

I’ve known Steven for 32 years now and I will say, with all the conviction, that he will become a great manager because he is not half-hearted about anything he does. There will be complete commitment from him to reach the top of the game from the technical area too. Steven is a winner, but he is also just a really good lad that has a positive impact on the lives of everyone around him.

Gerard Houllier

Liverpool manager from 1998 to 2004. Gave Steven Gerrard his debut aged 18 and the captaincy at 23.

I first watched Stevie when Liverpool’s Under-19s had a game against Blackburn’s Under-19s and I was there to look at an option that could work on the right wing for the first team. Instead, there was a player in the middle of the park practically running the show. He was constantly instructing his teammates, running from one box to the other one, shooting, tackling and had great passing ability. It looked as if he had everything.

Getty
Getty

During half-time, I asked who he was and they told me he’s actually Under-17 and was only helping out because they were short of players. So he was younger than everyone, but he stood out. He didn’t look out of place, he belonged at a higher level so after the game I told him to come train at Melwood with the pros the next day.

If he was nervous, he never showed it. He fitted straight in. We knew we had to build the resistance in his body and reduce some rash decisions. The first year he got around 13 games, the second 31 and then 50. We had to condition him because he was only 17 when we decided he would be a first-team player for Liverpool.

With Stevie, you need to split how you discuss him into three categories. One, is the player. There are three stages: top-flight level, international level and a small pool that are world-class level. Stevie belonged to that limited category of player that drove his team to trophies and could walk into any starting line-up at any top club. He has scored in an FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and Uefa Cup final. He would always decide important games and he responded rather than hid when the stakes were very high. That is the true mark of a world-class player.

The second thing about Stevie is his leadership. That characteristic was obvious from the first time I saw him. Despite his young age and not even being part of the Under-19s set-up at the time, he was shouting at his teammates, making sure they were in the right positions and tracking back. Some players shrink when it comes to responsibility. They get inhibited, others thrive and really blossom and that was Stevie.

At the age of 23, he became captain of Liverpool and I gave him the armband because he was built for it. He was a perfect leader, so inspiring not just with what he could do on the pitch, but how he was off it. Stevie could take a game by the scruff of the neck and make things happen when others would have just given up. He was very encouraging, he could be demanding but he was very good for his teammates, which is why they were so happy to follow him.

The third aspect of Stevie is his personality. Every person who has worked with Stevie will tell you he had intelligence, desire and extremely strong character. He has never stopped putting in hard work to succeed and he sacrificed a lot to be where he is today. There are qualities that are very important to know about him.

Stevie is loyal: to his family, to his friends, his teammates, to his clubs, to his agent, to his staff and the players he manages now. He is also really generous, he has a big heart and there are many things that he did to help people that you will never know about. Stevie is also incredibly humble. He has ambition, yes, but is is combined with humility.

Rex
Rex

I watched him grow from a kid to become one of the best players in the world and an example of what a captain should be, but his personality has never changed. He is still the same Stevie and I’m sure that he will be a top manager because he will work towards that. He is not arrogant, he started with the youth at Liverpool’s academy and is now building his way through this new career.

Humility will bring him to being the best, because he looks after his people. He looked after his teammates and now he looks after his players. Stevie never wanted the attention for himself, he would praise everyone else even in the team meetings we had. People have always wanted to follow him because he is the kind of person that gives everything for you.

Fernando Torres

Formed a dynamic combination with Gerrard, who he has named his greatest-ever teammate, between 2007 to 2011 at Liverpool.

There was never any ego with Stevie. At the very beginning, when we didn’t have a close relationship yet because of the language issues, I noticed he was already protecting and looking out for me. He always paid attention to me and he made sure I had everything I needed.

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Getty

Stevie was just a normal guy, always giving the right example on and off the pitch, but at the same time he was the king of the city and club with a huge responsibility. He never acted like that, though.

He loves Liverpool and from my very first day at Melwood, I could tell that if player comes in with the right attitude and the aim of helping the club, he will welcome and help you in a big way. I showed him that immediately and he could see it. When a player like him takes care of you, likes you, believes in you, you can’t let him down. I felt like I had a responsibility to him too.

Stevie always behaved like a leader, he was never complaining or looking for excuses. In every training session, he worked hard and taught the rest of us about the desire and dedication needed. He must be a big inspiration for each player, because he was for me. The only things fans ask for is for their players or manager to give everything for the club and that is what Stevie does. That is why he is so loved and respected.

I am not surprised he has become a manager because he has two very important characteristics for it: a strong mentality and determination. He was born to be a leader and I’m sure he’s enjoying preparing for matches and trying to get the best out of his players. I am sure he will be successful and who would not love to see Stevie in the Anfield dugout one day? It will be the perfect picture to see him coaching Liverpool to trophies.

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Getty

Think about how great that would be! I hope it happens one day.

Chris Morgan

Former head of physiotherapy at Liverpool, where he worked for over a decade and became close friends with Gerrard, whom he consulted for at LA Galaxy.

The thing that first strikes you about Stevie is his presence. He has an incredible aura that is hard to put into words. He can walk into a room and lift it immediately, often without even saying anything. His ability to lead and make good players even better was unlike anything I’ve ever seen during a very long career in football.

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Getty

How many of them have said that he’s in the top two of the best they’ve ever played with? Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Luis Suarez… It’s because he never felt like he was in a battle with them from an ego perspective, he wanted them to shine and be in the spotlight because that meant Liverpool were benefiting. As much as they put Stevie on a pedestal, he put them on one too. They loved playing with him and playing for him because he made them feel like they could achieve anything they wanted to.

No matter how big Stevie was in terms of his status at Liverpool, he was submissive for the greater good of the group. I’ve been watching The Last Dance and thinking of the contrast between him and Michael Jordan. MJ needed everyone to fall in line and to worship him. Stevie was demanding, but he worshipped his teammates and that came through the interviews he would do and it was very obvious at the training ground.

I worked with him all through the period when he was one of the very best in the world: FWA Footballer of the Year, PFA Player of the Year, third in the Ballon d’Or voting, but Stevie always had what I would consider a healthy level of self-doubt. That ensured he never got comfortable and kept him striving for more.

Regardless of how good people thought he was, it was never enough. He’d show up to every training session wanting to give more, to do more. It was evident to the staff that, apart from his family, football was his priority and he was completely devoted to it. It’s not the same for all players, especially when they reach certain status or more money rolls in than they ever imagined.

His intensity never dropped and even when he struggled with injuries, specifically the bad ones, he had an all-consuming energy to get back to playing. He really pushed the medical and conditioning team and was a pleasure to work with.

One of the most impressive things about Stevie is he is a genuine superstar, but you’d forget it when you were in his company. He’s so personable and he really invests in individuals. I’ve worked with colleagues for a decade and they won’t know much about my personal life, but he knows all about my family because he takes an interest.

Stevie has never been selfish with his time and actually, he’s done a lot of things that were never publicised. He’d get so many requests to make a dying kid’s wish come true and he’d charter flights and stuff without anyone knowing to go and try to make a small difference. There was never any publicity and actually, the only reason I know is because I could see he was emotionally down and would ask him if he was okay.

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Getty

Stevie was a world-class performer, but he’s also a world-class person. People probably don’t realise that he’s very funny, because he often looks quite serious and is an intense competitor. When you add all up his qualities – the presence he’s got, the leadership qualities and being a very likeable guy – it’s easy to see why players love going on a journey with him first as his teammate and now under his management. Stevie can wear his emotions on his sleeve and he pulls you in.

It’s going to be a pleasure watching him develop in the dugout like he did on the pitch.

Michael Beale

First-team coach at Rangers under Gerrard and worked with him at Liverpool’s Academy.

You can only imagine the impact Steven Gerrard coming to work at the academy had on the staff and players. There was a lift in the building.

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Getty

As much as he wanted to pick our brains, we wanted to do the same with him as he’d experienced so much. He has a real thirst for learning and betterment, which stayed with him through his transition from player to youth coach to manager.

While he was at the academy, he got the chance to listen to the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Alex Inglethorpe, Steve Heighway and gain feedback from them to mix with his own ideas of a way of working. That was fantastic for everyone involved.

When I came back from a spell in Brazil, Steven was taking the Under-18s and he did a superb job. He’s a really high motivator of his players, was very diligent in the way he worked and I think that’s a testament to him. He didn’t just want to jump into the deep end and accept a big offer, he took his time to properly learn the trade.

Working with him at Rangers now, the biggest thing that impresses me is his appetite for development which shines through every day. He sets really high standards, has a natural enthusiasm and he gives a lot of responsibility to his staff, which I’m very thankful for.

Rex
Rex

That gives me a lot more enjoyment and growth in the job and I know the other guys in the backroom team feel the same way. He really invests in you as a person and he really invests in the journey, which takes you along with him.

I believe he’s in the infancy of a very long and successful management career.

Originally published May 2020.

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