Football, like life, is often a story of ‘what ifs’. What if Pele had played in Europe? What if Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup hadn’t been disallowed? What Diego Maradona’s Hand of God had been chalked off? What if Porto hadn’t equalised in the last minute at Old Trafford in the last 16 of the 2004 Champions League? What if Geoff Hurst’s goal in the 1966 World Cup Final had been adjudged not to have crossed the line? The list can go on forever. The answers to these questions though, will always be unknown.
Steven Gerrard is one of the greatest midfielders to have ever played in the Premier League. A boyhood scouser, Gerrard’s love for Liverpool started long before he took to the Anfield pitch. When he did, he made it his own. The list of magical moments he has produced for the Reds is never-ending. The absolute screamer against Manchester United in 2001 that announced him on the big stage, the stunning volley against Galatasaray in the Champions League in 2005, the man-of-the-match performance in the final that year on that famous night in Istanbul, the single-handed effort to save his side twice in the 2006 FA Cup Final….
His career though might have turned out very differently. Manchester United and Chelsea fans are never shy of reminding Gerrard time and time again that he has no Premier League titles to his name. There were two occasions though, that he could have sealed a move to the latter and probably changed that stat.
In 2004, following the European Championships in Portugal, a deal was reportedly agreed between the clubs for Gerrard to make a £30 million move to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s new manager Jose Mourinho wanted the player, and the prospect of a larger paycheck along with more chances at silverware seemed to have tempted the Englishman to quit Anfield.
Subsequently, after being ‘a week away’ from signing for Chelsea, Gerrard did a U-turn after the Liverpool officials and his family convinced him that Liverpool was his club. This piece from February 2005 lists down a few reasons why he chose against moving to London. There were also reports of death threats which influenced his decision to stay back.
In the summer of 2005, he was once again targeted by Chelsea, and this time, Liverpool accepted a £32 million offer after Gerrard turned down a contract extension and stated that he wanted to quit his boyhood club. Then came the second U-turn, just 24 hours later, with the midfielder signing the extension worth £100,000-per-week.
At the end of it all, Gerrard remained a Liverpool player. This is a timeline of how events unfolded following the 2005 Champions League final.
Now, almost a decade on, as Liverpool prepare to take on Chelsea in the first-leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final, Gerrard will wonder what might have been. Since 2005, the Reds have only won two trophies – the 2006 FA Cup and the 2011 League Cup. Chelsea, by contrast have won two Premier League trophies, four FA Cups, a League, a Champions League and a Europa League.
There is no doubt that Gerrard is arguably one of the greatest players to have ever put on a Liverpool shirt. He is part of a rare group, of players that stay at one club throughout the prime of their careers. Of course, he has confirmed his decision to leave the Reds at the end of this season but at the age of 34, he won’t be joining a direct rival or working against Liverpool.
But the fact remains that a player of his calibre and quality should have had more to show for in terms of silverware. For a player like Steven Gerrard to have never won the Premier League is criminal, almost. His loyal service for both club and country over the last 15 years has won his countless accolades and plaudits. But he surely will feel he could have and should have won a lot more, especially having come so close to joining a club that has been one of the most successful sides in Europe in the last decade.
Another man involved in these transactions, who certainly has regrets about the way things panned out, is Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager openly stated a couple of days ago that not signing Gerrard remains one of the biggest regrets of his life.
— Pete O’Rourke (@SportsPeteO) January 19, 2015
“We did everything to try [to sign him] and it was almost there,” said Mourinho.
“I was dreaming of Claude Makelele, Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield.”
Mourinho added: “We were playing in a proper triangle without a number 10 and playing Maka in front of the defenders. Me, Mr Abramovich and [former Chelsea chief executive] Peter Kenyon at that time, we dreamed of that.”
In the end, it remained just a dream.
Today, we can only reflect on what might have happened had Gerrard made the switch to Stamford Bridge. Could he have gelled in and made the same impact that he has for Liverpool? Could Mourinho have optimally utilised both Lampard and Gerrard in the same side? Would we today be celebrating Gerrard as a Chelsea legend?
Alas, think as you might, these questions will forever remain unanswered.