Only one midfielder or striker has played every minute of Premier League league football this season: Steven Gerrard.
The Liverpool and England skipper, one of the finest English players of all time, was written off by many football news sources last season as a has-been who was on his final legs.
How wrong they were.
Despite approaching his 33rd birthday, Gerrard remains as important for club and country as ever.
At Anfield, he may not quite have the unstoppable dynamism and memorable performances of his absolute prime in 2009 – with Luis Suarez now the headline-writer – but that has been replaced with a maturity and aura in the middle park that many of his detractors claimed he didn’t possess.
His supposed love for ‘Hollywood’ balls is exaggerated, and while he does love to attempt ambitious passes he is equally adept at keeping it simple when it’s called for.
At international level he has been England’s best player since taking over the captaincy last year, and while that isn’t necessarily saying much considering their woefulness, his effort and consistency have been admirable.
If only he had been selected as captain instead of John Terry in 2006; just think how much smoother things would’ve gone. Barring a fight in a bar a few years ago, Gerrard is a great role model with a likeable passion for the game.
Along with Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard is Roy Hodgson’s key man as they look to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Assuming they do make it through their group, expect it to be Gerrard’s swansong in an England shirt. He will have just turned 34, and the natural thing to do will be to step down and focus of prolonging his Liverpool career. It would be typical of him to sign off with a moment of magic.
While he has never quite at the heights of his Liverpool form for his country, those who say he has been poor for England are being very harsh. He has played the majority of his 102 caps out of position, whether it be from the left of midfield or defensive midfield at his peak, where he was completely wasted. He has never moaned about it and produced solid, if not brilliant, displays for over a decade.
Last season’s persistent injury problems kept Gerrard out of the side for many games, and there was a fear among the Liverpool fans that this truly great footballer may return a shadow of his former self, given his age and history with injuries.
There are comparisons between Gerrard and Paul Scholes, who along with the Liverpool man is England’s finest player since Paul Gascoigne. At a similar age to what Gerrard is now, Scholes was written off after an eye problem caused him to miss a large chunk of games for Manchester United.
Many felt he would never fully recover, yet six or seven years later he’s still going strong, having played some of the best football of his career between the ages of 32 and 38. With talk of a new contract being offered to Gerrard in the summer there is no reason why he can’t replicate Scholes and play for another 5 years or so at the top level.
This season has been Steven Gerrard’s best since the 2008/09 campaign. He was sensational that year, winning Footballer of the Year and linking up with Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso superbly. While that season he was deployed as a second striker he now plays a much deeper role, like Alonso.
The lung-busting runs and stunning strikes have been replaced with intelligent passing and excellent positional sense. In some ways, it has been more enjoyable watching him this season than in 2009; seeing him tweak his game to such great effect.
Admittedly the start of the season was slightly inconsistent from him, but given his injury nightmare a little rustiness was understandable. As the season has progressed, however, he has become more and more influential by the game. Goals have started flowing more regularly, with his wonderful effort away at Manchester City a particular highlight. He has arguably been Liverpool’s best player in recent weeks, including Suarez.
When Steven Gerrard does eventually hang up his boots – a sad day for every Liverpool fan – he will remembered as arguably the best player to ever play for his boyhood club, and one of the best footballers of his generation. Hopefully that day is not coming for many years still.