Friday, August 02, 2013

Steven Gerrard - Memories of a football colossus

Emdad Rahman On the eve of the testimonial of Liverpool's greatest ever player I thought I'd share one memory I saw at first hand.

It was a cold November evening in 2010 and my friends and I had made the journey up to Anfield to catch a glimpse of Roy Hodgson’s new look Liverpool.

SSC Napoli, founded in 1904 by English sailor William Poths and his confrère Hector M. Bayon were in town. The current England manager was settling into the Anfield hot seat after taking over the helm from Rafael Benitez before the start of the new season. One of Hodgson’s first tasks during his short reign was to meet his irreplaceable captain and persuade him to commit himself to the red shirt for the rest of his Anfield career. There were muted calls from some corners that the newly turned thirty year old was approaching his twilight and maybe it wouldn’t be a bad decision to flog the Red talisman to a rival at a decent price.

Hodgson, like everyone in football knew Gerrard’s presence was crucial for the rebuilding plans at Liverpool and that night served a stark and timely reminder. Liverpool hosted a Napoli side boasting the golden trio of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. The brawny yet dexterous Lavezzi was at the centre of all Napoli’s attacking forays and proving to be a real nuisance. On 28minutes the coastal city clubs front runner changed tack – switched his assist role to latch onto Cavani’s header and slam an assured opener past Pepe Reina.

With several squad players being given an outing the home side looked edgy and uneasy in possession for the rest of the first half. The club captain warmed up at half time engulfed by the biggest cheer of the night and took the field for the second half. Gerrard grabbed the game by the scruff, gave it a vigorous shrug and was simply too hot to handle as he lifted the roof with a staggering fifteen minute hat trick against the "Ciucciarelli."

A sign of what awaited Napoli came on 52 minutes as a rebound off goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis was blazed over. Returning ex Liverpool full back Andrea Dossena cemented a rapturous applause from the home faithful as his back pass botch-up led to a sprint for the ball between Gerrard and De Sanctis. Gerrard reached home base quickest and his outstretched studs knocked the ball past hulking De Sanctis and into the net. The Anfield skipper summed it perfectly: “When you’re in that position against a giant of a goalkeeper you’ve just got to go in and hope for the best. There was no class involved, just determination and desire. I don’t think the keeper fancied it.”

Next up was the Referee Fredy Fautrel of France, who intervened on 87 minutes, penalising Salvatore Aronica for a foul on Glen Johnson. Gerrard was clinical as Liverpool went ahead 2-1. The game not over yet and to stamp his superior authority, the England skipper struck home his fourth career hat trick two minutes later, bolting away to again sting the "Partenopei" with a nifty finish over the abandoned De Sanctis.Once again Gerrard had pulled off one of the great individual football performances, rising to the occasion to deliver yet another performance of pure poetry.

John W Henry was attending his first game at Anfield and an earlier despondent shake of the head had transformed to euphoria and exultation by the end of the ninety minutes. Steven Gerrard may have accumulated moments of magic by the bagful but it is giant performances like this in mostly average Liverpool teams that have singled him out as one the greatest midfielders of his generation and one Anfield legend who is certain to edge King Kenny to the title of the clubs greatest ever player.Here’s something I wrote on the journey back down to London after the game.

Gerrard 3-1 Napoli

Lower centenary on row nineteen
Seat 0215 in the Anfield crowd
Making my Reds euro debut
I sat upright and so very proud

Andis hoped I liked Liverpool City
Yasmin saw me on the TV
Linny, Darren and Natha there too
And Lissa sat just ahead of me

Joyous chorus of the Kop cut short
By Lavezzi “the chubby one”
Screaming Ultras down the Anfield Road end
S.S.C Napoli were having all the fun

Sky blue bragging rights erupted
Not quite Roy’s original match plan
Still a little bit of fan handbags
“All stay close,” yelled Bootle Jan

“Attack, attack, attack,” roared the Kop
Stevie's warm up triggered an earthquake
Beating De Sanctis in a 50-50
Anfield called out the impending jailbreak

Ex Red Dossena blasted
“Get up ya quilt,” screamed the chap next to me
Poulsen and Milan were sturdy
Thrust from Meireles and Jonjo Shelvey

Upended Johnson’s dazzle thwarted
Aronica with the smoking gun
Gerrard with a meticulous spot kick
Reds go ahead two to one

Lucas the playmaker supreme
After Ngog agog with that miss
Gerrard rubber stamps the hat trick
Dinked sublimely over De Sanctis

If there ever was a one man team
It’s the head boy of the Kop yard
The best ever seen at Anfield
Salute the marauding Steven Gerrard

UEFA Europa League
Written on the journey home - 04.11.10

Number 7
© Emdad Rahman

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