Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is just about to complete his 15th season as a player at Anfield, making him that rarest of rare creatures in modern football, a one-club man through and through, and there have been few better role models in the English game in that time than the 32-year-old midfield player.
With 629 games and 159 goals to his name in a glittering 15-year club career, as well as becoming just the sixth player to be capped 100 times by England, during which time he has scored 19 times for his country, Gerrard’s on-field numbers tell one particular story about this world-class performer.
However, it is not just his outstanding achievements on the field of play that mark Gerrard out as an ideal role model, but equally what he does off the pitch, with the Whiston-born player’s name rarely seen, if ever, on the front pages of the national newspapers.
Gerrard was given his Liverpool debut in November 1998 by Gerard Houllier, and so it should be no surprise whatsoever that the midfielder has always looked after his body off the pitch in terms of diet, not consuming alcohol and getting the needed rest in between fixtures.
And it is that kind of complete and total dedication to become the very best in your field that the one-time France national team manager instilled into Gerrard from a very young age, and that he himself hen passed down to the younger generation of Liverpool players over the years.
Reds and England teammate Jonjo Shelvey rightly holds Gerrard in very high regard (via The Independent):
He is just a great role model to learn from. You can't say enough about Stevie. He does his talking on and off the pitch. He lives the life of a proper professional footballer.
His performances have been first class and he has been my perfect role model since day one and someone every young player can learn from.
Meanwhile, on the pitch itself there cannot have been few more inspirational role models than Gerrard has been these past 15 years, with Liverpool’s Captain Fantastic always preferring to lead by actions rather than words, with no better example being in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final.
With Liverpool trailing 3-0 at half-time to heavyweights AC Milan and in danger of being on the wrong end of the heaviest-ever European Cup final defeat in a competition the Reds used to own, up stepped Gerrard to drag the team single-handedly to a fifth continental crown in a man-of-the-match display that is hard to better still to this day.
No “simulation,” haranguing of referees or winding up of opposition players or fans alike, no malicious or intentional tackles to injure opponents, just respect for his own teammates and the opposition and playing the game in the right spirit at all times, hard but fair.
I remember Steven Gerrard scoring a similar goal to mine (against Swansea City in the FA Cup third round in January) in the FA Cup final against West Ham and also the Champions League game against Olympiacos. He is a great player.
He has been the heartbeat of Liverpool for years. He has also been the stand-out performer for England as well.
“He is a great role model for me. If I can get anywhere near as good as him and drive the team forward like he does, then I will be happy.
He was someone I looked up to when I was younger. He has 100 caps for England. For any young midfielder he is someone to base your game on and try to be like him.
And as befits a player who prefers to do his talking on the pitch, there are very rarely any histrionics with Gerrard, whether of an on-field or an off-the-pitch variety, unlike with many of his over-pampered fellow professionals.
Gerrard could have thrown his toys out of the pram, for example, when he was surprisingly overlooked for the England captaincy by several Three Lions managers down the years, but instead he simply kept his counsel and never let his form dip as it could have done.
From my time working with him as England manager he was fantastic
There are some players who you need to spend a lot of time with, you need to reassure them, but Steven is probably one of the lowest maintenance players I have ever come across.
He is quiet and unassuming, very professional and does his job to a very high standard, in many ways he is the perfect role model for young players.
He was always supportive of his fellow players and that showed what a leader he was.
However, perhaps Gerrard’s greatest attribute and one of the main reasons as to why he is the ultimate role model for players of all ages to aspire to is the fact that he is always, always seeking and demanding improvements to his game, never satisfied or content that he has made it.
And as a result, if other players see that one of the finest midfielders of this, or any, generation is still looking to better himself at the age of 32, then what an awe-inspiring example that must be to them.
Young Liverpool attacker Suso speaks highly of his skipper as well (via Mirror):
He has been playing in the Liverpool first team since he was as young as 18, and he is still playing.
I see him every morning in training and he always wants to improve, even though he is the best player already and has won so much at this club.
So I think this is why he is one of the best examples for young players.
And, in the same article, those thoughts of Liverpool’s young Spaniard were echoed by his club-mate and compatriot Dani Pacheco, who said:
At this club, Stevie is the model for everyone.
He has come through the academy and has achieved plenty. But he is trying to achieve even more. And that is amazing.
When you see a player at that level, who still wants to improve more and more, you think to yourself, "I have to fight every day to get near to that level" and I know I have to fight to play for this club.
However, perhaps it is appropriate to leave the final word on this to Gerrard’s manager at Anfield (via Sky Sports):
Our young players, they won't have a greater role model to follow, and they're in pole position to learn, because they're seeing him every single day.
If they're bright enough, they'll learn from him, and then hopefully they can be here for a long time.