London – Go back to Sunday, December 17, 2000. Gerard Houllier was taking his emerging Liverpool side to Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson had pinpointed a player who threatened Manchester United’s ambitions.
“He is physically and technically precocious,” said Ferguson. “He’s got a good engine and remarkable energy. He reads the game and he passes quickly. I would hate to think Liverpool have someone as good as Roy Keane.’”
Head to May 2004. The European Championship in Portugal was looming and Ferguson had given an interview to the Sunday Times, in which he revealed profound admiration for a midfielder from whom he expected big things.
“He has become the most influential player in England, bar none,” Ferguson enthused, adding: “More than Vieira. Not that Vieira lacks anything, but I think he does more for his team than Vieira does and has way more to his game.
“I’ve watched him quite a lot. Anyone would love to have him in their team.”
The subject of both eulogies was Steven Gerrard, whom Ferguson has now chosen to describe in his memoirs as not being a “top, top player”. So why the U-turn? What is the agenda behind this logic-defying soundbite?
Ferguson, after all, described Gerrard as being the man he would “want to replace Keane”. At Euro 2004, a Manchester United player who was part of the England squad knocked on Gerrard’s door at the team hotel and said: “We’d love you to come to United.”
Had Gerrard failed to win anything in the intervening years and made only sporadic appearances for the England team, maybe there could have been some sense to Ferguson’s words.
But Liverpool’s captain has matured into a first-class professional and dedicated family man – everything Ferguson says he looks for in a player.
Perhaps, when the end arrives, he will not have the honours his talent deserves but his cabinet will hardly be bare.
How many players would swap the wealth they accumulated for a haul of one Champions League, one Uefa Cup, two FA Cups, three League Cups and 107 England caps?
How many would want to be able to cite the fact they created history by becoming the first man to score in the finals of the Uefa Cup, League Cup, Champions League and FA Cup?
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: ”The big players score the big goals and make the big contributions in the big games. That is what determines a great player – and that’s what Steven Gerrard is.”
Maybe Ferguson believes Gerrard is not a “top, top player” because he hasn’t won the Premier League and has not played in the Champions League since 2009. If so, he will be in a minority of one.
In June 2010, Marca, the influential Spanish newspaper, published a front page with a picture of Gerrard mocked up in a Real Madrid kit alongside the words Caliente! Caliente! Caliente! (Hot! Hot! Hot!). He was their prime target when Jose Mourinho became manager.
In the aftermath of Euro 2012, Bayern Munich wanted to sign him. All the top clubs have wanted Gerrard at some point – especially United.
“Playing for Manchester United would have been impossible,” Gerrard told Sportsmail in September 2012. “Don’t get me wrong, it is flattering that after everything he has done in the game, Sir Alex wanted me to play in his team. I never would have wanted to play for Manchester United.”
And those last words might just be the reason why Ferguson comes across as being jilted. Knocking Liverpool “off their f****** perch” was one thing, taking their on-field emblem would have been something else.
That has to be the agenda – envy, plain and simple. Ferguson, who once signed those midfield “giants” Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson, tended to get what he wanted in the transfer window, as the successful pursuit of Robin van Persie proved.
Gerrard, however, was always the one that remained out of reach. To say he never got a kick against Paul Scholes and Keane is risible, as evidence abounds to prove otherwise, such as a thumping goal in the League Cup final of 2003 and winning assists at Old Trafford in January 2002 and April 2004.
Gerrard not a “top, top player”? If he isn’t, who is? – Daily Mail