Steven Gerrard made his first-team debut as a scrawny 18-year-old in a glorious shirt that was far too big for him. “A boy in a man’s shirt, going into a man’s game, it doesn’t look like me,” he said when we sat down to talk about captaincy. Gerrard came on for Vegard Heggem at the end of a 2–0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, but name wasn’t even on the back of the programme that day.
Just five years later, Gérard Houllier took the captain’s armband from Sami Hyypia and placed it around the arm of a young man whose shirt was no longer too big for him. “It was a big moment for me – one of the best days of my life really,” says Gerrard. He had gone from nervous substitute to hometown club captain and he was only 23 – “still a bit young” as he puts it.
Over the following 12 years, Gerrard showed himself to be a leader. One of the most illuminating aspects of his captaincy was his ability to craft relationships with other players. Gerrard constructed beautiful relationships with beautiful footballers and tenacious relationships with tenacious footballers. He nurtured new signings and motivated older ones. His subliminal partnership with Fernando Torres was as artistic as kicking a ball about on a piece of grass can be.
Gerrard’s face, at any point of a game, was a canvas for genuine emotion. His joy after a Javier Mascherano tackle, elation after a Luis Suárez goal and relief after a Jerzy Dudek save were infectious. His drive to succeed influenced the players around him and his sheer pride at captaining the club was as obvious as his ability to bang one into the top corner. As he says: “To be the captain of Liverpool is a very privileged position.”