According to Dominic King, Steven Gerrard will not only win his first Premier League winners medal if Liverpool are able to win their final four games this season, but he will also earn the title of the Premier League’s finest ever player. While it will be difficult to accept Liverpool becoming Premier League champions, I will have to do so because the team that is top after 38 games will be there on merit, and will deserve the success. However I refuse to accept that winning the title once makes you the best player the competition has ever seen, and I believe there are plenty of reasons to suggest that I’m right.
First of all, while Gerrard’s career has seen him win everything bar the Premier League or anything with England, his success has been far too infrequent for a man who might be considered the best player the Premier League has ever seen. One Champions League miracle aside, his career has seen him successful a handful of times in the FA Cup and League Cup, as well as winning Europe’s secondary club tournament; the UEFA Cup at the time.
If the best player in Premier League history is the most successful player, then Ryan Giggs is the outright winner, with THIRTEEN titles to his name, and countless other medals. If you are judging the best player on his footballing ability then surely Cristiano Ronaldo takes the plaudits because he was named World Footballer of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or whilst playing the Premier League. You could even decide this accolade on who scored the most goals, therefore Alan Shearer is currently the best player the Premier League has ever seen. The problem is Dominic King did not give any concrete reasons for selecting Gerrard, he simply says; “should he lead Liverpool to the title this season, and crown an extraordinary career with the one gong that has proven so elusive, he will have to be recognised as the greatest player of the Barclays Premier League era.” King goes on to present a list of other players who could be considered, and they include Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, Alan Shearer, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane; Frank Lampard, John Terry and Gianfranco Zola. All players who have changed, improved and defined the Premier League with their unforgettable contributions to the English game, whilst also winning endless silverware. And yet, according to King, “should Gerrard, who has reinvented himself this season as a deep-lying midfielder and is flourishing in the role, win the league, he would stand apart.”
So there you have it, no logical rationale, no presentation of argument, no outstanding reasons why Gerrard should be considered the greatest player in the Premier League era. He should be because he should be. It is a childish, immature argument and one that has come about through a recent media frenzy towards a side that may or may not end the season as Champions of England, and yet pundits and journalists alike are falling over themselves to pay tribute to this Liverpool team without waiting for the silverware to confirm whether or not it is worth the endless praise.
But considering the debate that Mr King has caused with his poorly considered article, I will now present my argument for why Gerrard is not going to be considered the best player in this era, and also the players that I personally believe would compete for the title, although in my mind it is difficult to name just one player as the best the Premier League has ever seen.
So the defining factor that would make him the best is winning the title this year? Well first of all this Liverpool side has had no distractions in challenging for the title, due to poor performances in the domestic cups and failing to qualify for any form of European football last season. They prepare for each league game with more time than their rivals, who have competed in both the group stages and knockout rounds of the Champions League, as well as the latter stages of the League Cup and FA Cup, which of course makes it more difficult to manage player fitness, injuries, and simple mental exhaustion. If the best player in the Premier League era is one who has defined a title-winning side, then the search must go beyond this Liverpool side, to those teams that have won the league whilst competing on multiple fronts. Those sides are the Manchester United domestic double winning teams of 1994 and 1996, or the European and Premier League double winning side of 2008; the Arsenal double winning sides of 1998 and 2002; or the treble winning Manchester United side of 1999. You could even consider the most decisive players from Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’ side of 2004 or Mourinho’s Chelsea side in 2006 which holds the points record for a single Premier League season. There is plenty to choose from, but the Liverpool side of 2013-2014 is certainly not on the same level of any of the sides I have just mentioned, and therefore have much worthier candidates than Steven Gerrard.
I could sit here and write for hours about other players who deserve to be named the very best in Premier League history, but instead I will give reasons for just three more, and that will be more than enough to explain why it would be foolish, or rather ridiculous, to name Steven Gerrard in their place;
As far as influence goes, his has extended beyond the Manchester United side that he spearheaded, and is now worldwide. His performances in his final three years at Old Trafford redefined the role of the modern winger, as he led the charge to three consecutive titles between 2007 and 2009, as well as a European Cup success in 2008. He scored 42 goals in all competitions in 2007/08, including 31 in the Premier League which at the time of writing, is still the record for a 38 game season (he actually scored 31 in just 34 games). He achieved this from a wide position rather than a conventional striker too, and was named World Player of the Year and winner of the Ballon d’Or in 2008. In terms of sheer footballing ability, he is clearly the Greatest Player in the Premier League Era.
Arsenal’s record goal scorer and winner of two Premier League titles, he has also won the Golden Boot a record four times. He was top goalscorer in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Three years on the bounce he scored more goals than anybody else, a feat not matched by any other player in the Premier League Era. He was also named as runner-up to Zinedine Zidane in 2003 and Ronaldinho in 2004 for the World Player of the Year award. He scored all manner of goals for Arsenal, and regularly performed in the biggest games. Once again, in terms of footballing ability it is easy to make a case for Thierry Henry to be considered the best player the Premier League has ever seen.
Lampard may appear to be an unusual choice, and certainly wouldn’t be my first candidate for such a prestigious award, but I have chosen to add him to the discussion because he is the most similar player to Gerrard. Both attacking midfielders in the prime of their careers, both have subsequently changed roles to become more defensively minded as they enter their twilight years. However, whereas Gerrard has only won a small number of trophies, Lampard has won three Premier League titles, the Champions League and multiple domestic cups which outnumber the success that Gerrard has achieved in his career. On top of that he has scored 211 goals for Chelsea, far more than Gerrard has scored for Liverpool. In 2005 he was even named runner-up to Ronaldinho for the World Player of the Year award. If you were to stake a claim for Gerrard to be named the greatest player in Premier League history, then Lampard would have to be considered too, and on this evidence the Chelsea man is ahead of Gerrard in the queue.
So in essence I believe that it is ludicrous to suggest that winning the title this season would be enough to speak so highly of the Liverpool captain. Now I am not biased against him because of my allegiance to Manchester United. I have always admired Gerrard for his career achievements and his influence on the Premier League. He is one of the finest midfielders, if not one of the finest players, that this country has ever produced, and will still be so whether he ends his career with a championship medal or not. He is certainly in contention for a place in an all-time best XI from the Premier League. But to name him as the very best? Non-sensical. To do so would be to discount so many other fine players who have graced our league that we have not even mentioned; Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Robert Pires, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and another Ballon d’Or winner Michael Owen would all be in contention, some with better cases than others, but in contention nonetheless. For a journalist to jump on the bandwagon so readily and make such bold claims so easily is difficult to understand, and certainly difficult to make sense of when no argument is presented other than the fact he may win a league title. United fans now sing “Shinji 1, Gerrard 0”, to remind the Liverpool captain of the missing medal in his collection. Are we to say Kagawa is up their with the greats of this era because he has a medal himself? Of course not, and yet Dominic King’s entire argument hangs on whether or not Gerrard and Liverpool actually do manage to win the league. Absurd.
By Adem Berkay
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