Clash Of The Cousins: Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard insists that the 'Kenny factor' has lifted the doom and gloom around Anfield and that victory in tomorrow's Carling Cup final can be the catalyst for greater glories
Steven Gerrard is one of that diminishing breed of footballer disinclined to communicate their injury updates, breakfast contents and general hopes of conflict resolution through Twitter, so it is only now that we discover the full emotional capital he carries into leading Liverpool out at Wembley for the first time tomorrow.
The statistic which will get a substantial airing this weekend – that it is 16 years since Liverpool last went to Wembley – is a conceit, of course. A generation of Liverpool fans would be entirely familiar with Wembley Way had cup finals not been staged 130 miles down the M4 in the six years from 2001. But Gerrard still always felt he was missing a gift in the possession of John Barnes, Liverpool's captain on the day he first clapped eyes on the twin towers, as Liverpool fell to Eric Cantona's Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final. "I was thinking about that when I was at Cardiff for Cup finals," Gerrard admits. "I was slightly gutted, if you like – that they were not at Wembley, because when you're growing up and watching finals as a kid, you want to walk up those steps and lift the Cup above your head in front of everyone."
There are more profound kinds of significance about tomorrow, too, the foremost being a collapse into internecine strife and outright civil war which has crippled Liverpool since Gerrard lifted their last silverware at the 2006 FA Cup final that has since borne his name. "Yes, of course," he says to the suggestion that he felt the club were slipping away entirely. "Going back to the time under George Gillett and Tom Hicks, you suffer a defeat at Anfield and then go out to do a warm-down, and there are thousands singing and shouting to get the owners out. Not good. There were days when you wondered, 'Will I ever get to a major cup final or will I experience more success as a Liverpool player?' But you don't stop believing. You always have to believe and have confidence that things will turn around if you keep working hard and doing the right things, and that's what we have all done. We have all stuck together. I think the experience and hurt from the lows help you to get to places like this final, and to have good memories."
That his beloved club should be restoring a little of the lost dignity is something Gerrard attributes to the man depicted on the vast image his father, Paul, once heaved up the stairs at No 10, Ironside Road, on Huyton's Bluebell estate, and passed over, telling him: "He's the man. The best player who ever turned out for Liverpool. Get him up on your wall."
Liverpool's presence in London tomorrow is "down to the Kenny factor, him coming in," Gerrard says. "This time last year, the season was over, there was a lot of doom and gloom around the place. Kenny coming in gave everyone a big lift and slowly brought a bit of belief and confidence back."
These past few months have been an unsparing test of Dalglish's executive skills and have posed uncomfortable questions about where the line between loyalty and indulgence falls. For Gerrard – the man who once reflected of Rafael Benitez's regime that "we are cogs in a machine, he rarely communicates with us" – the equations are less complicated. "He is a lot closer to the players," he says. "A very good man-manager. He's honest and shows the players [a lot of] support. When you're a player and go out on to the pitch, you want to deliver something back for him. I don't think there's a problem with managers who are distant. I have worked with managers who handle players differently. But with Kenny it's more like he still thinks he's a player, still trying to get a game on the training ground, still laughing and joking with the players. From a serious point of view, he's very loyal and honest with the players. That's all you can ask for."
There are striking parallels between the journey Dalglish (left) will take, this weekend, and the one which Gérard Houllier made 11 years ago, when the 2001 Worthington Cup final win over Birmingham City – on penalties – also delivered Anfield its first silverware in six years. The FA Cup and Uefa Cup followed that season. "Before we won that treble we were improving slowly and I think that's what is happening here," Gerrard reflects. "I think if we deliver the Carling Cup it will give us the confidence and, hopefully, can be a catalyst for the team."
The league title was also not beyond the bounds of possibility in 2001. "I think we are a little bit further away than that team," Gerrard reflects.
Not all of his memories of this type of occasion are cherished. In the 2005 League Cup final, it was Gerrard's own goal which allowed Chelsea back into the game they won 3-2 in extra time. "A nightmare," is his summation. "An own goal. I felt suicidal. It was bad; one of the worst days I have had, especially against Chelsea. I was linked with them for a while before that cup final. Then to go and score an own goal – there were Liverpool fans who probably thought I meant it at the time because I was linked with them – and to get the defeat was a nightmare, too."
The presence in the Cardiff squad of his 26-year-old cousin, Anthony, who would often be present at the kickabouts on Ironside in their boyhood years, provides another dimension today. Anthony, his father's brother's son, would see him at their mutual grandparents' house – No 35 in that street. "I knew from a young age he was going to be a good player," Gerrard says.
But a succinct response to the notion that a Cardiff win might bring some family consolation encapsulates what tomorrow means. "For him personally it would, yes, but not really. No."
Record Breaking Reds: The Final Lowdown
Roads to Wembley
1R Oxford (a) Won 3-1 (aet)
(Conway, Whittingham, Jarvis)
2R Huddersfield (h) W 5-3 (aet)
(Gyepes, Parkin, Cowie 2, Conway)
3R Leicester (h) D 2-2 (aet, won 7-6 on penalties)
4R Burnley (h) W 1-0
QF Blackburn (h) W 2-0
SF1L Crystal Palace (a) L 1-0
SF2L Crystal Palace (h) W 1-0
(Gardner og), 1-1 on aggregate, won 3-1 on penalties.
2R Exeter (a) Won 3-1
(Suarez, Rodriguez, Carroll)
3R Brighton (a) Won 2-1
4R Stoke (a) Won 2-1
QF Chelsea (a) Won 2-0
SF1L Manchester City (a) W 1-0
SF2L Manchester City (h) D 2-2
(Gerrard pen, Bellamy) won 3-2 on aggregate
*Tomorrow Liverpool will contest a record 11th League Cup final – the Reds having won seven, also a record, of their previous 10 finals.
Most League Cup victories
5 Aston Villa
4 Chelsea, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool's League Cup victories
1981 Drew 1-1 (aet) with West Ham United [scorer: A Kennedy], won replay 2-1 at Villa Park [Dalglish, Hansen].
1982 Beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 (aet) [Whelan 2, Rush]
1983 Beat Manchester United 2-1 (aet) [A Kennedy, Whelan]
1984 Drew 0-0 (aet) with Everton, won replay 1-0 at Maine Road [Souness].
1995 Beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 [McManaman 2]
2001 Beat Birmingham 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw (aet) [Fowler]
2003 Beat Manchester United 2-0 [Gerrard, Owen]
Liverpool League Cup final defeats
1978 Drew 0-0 with Nottingham Forest, lost replay 1-0 at Old Trafford
1987 Lost 2-1 to Arsenal [Rush]
2005 Lost 3-2 to Chelsea (aet) [Riise, Nuñez]
*Cardiff City are playing in their first League Cup final, and become the first Welsh side to contest the showpiece, the city having hosted the final for seven years (2001-07) at the Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being renovated.
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