Stevie wonder makes it to No 1

Gerrard's tough year off the pitch and a great season on it has been capped with the footballer of the year award, writes Ian Herbert

It is a measure of the season Steven Gerrard has had that he almost didn't take the telephone call yesterday, informing him that he had been named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers' Association (FWA). The number on his mobile dial told him it was Liverpool's communications director Ian Cotton. "I was debating whether or not to take it because I thought I might have been in the papers for the wrong reason," Gerrard said.

The worst bulletins of the past nine months are well chronicled and the summer will reveal the outcome of the affray case which still hangs over Gerrard and which has cast an undoubted cloud on a spectacular season. But there have also been the medical bulletins which saw him miss two England World Cup qualifiers in September, the friendly against Germany in November and which have seen him sit out intermittent league games all season. "It was a nightmare pre-season," Gerrard said in the players' tunnel at Marseilles after his first return from injury, having contributed to the significant win which set his side on their way in the Champions League group stage.

Gerrard's contribution is the more remarkable for this. The injuries have limited his starts to 40 this season, so he has just had to pack the goals in that much faster. There have been 23 of them so far, ahead of Liverpool's visit to West Bromwich on Sunday – a figure equalling his previous best three season ago, in which he played 53 times. They have come at critical times, too. To go with the two in Real Madrid's brutal defeat at Anfield and the hat-trick against Aston Villa in late March, there was the afternoon of 14 March when he ripped past Manchester United's Patrice Evra to win a penalty, planted a smacker on a television camera after converting it and briefly ripped up the Premier League script.

Sometimes, the requisite powers needed at a club still painfully reliant on him and Fernando Torres have been beyond him. Thoughts spring to mind of the dropped points in the Premier League Anfield derby in January, the Liverpool captain blowing steam into the night sky, his face in a grimace 10 yards in front of his own box, as he tried to get Liverpool moving. His contribution went well beyond his goal that night, which is why the FWA vote has been a decisive one, with Gerrard beating six United players – Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well Chelsea's Frank Lampard – to become the first Anfield recipient of the writers' award since John Barnes, in 1990.

Symbolically, the Barnes award marked Liverpool's last league title and Gerrard's presence at Anfield at a time when the club finally looks capable of challenging United's hegemony is recompense for his decision to go with his heart and not leave Merseyside for Chelsea in the summer of 2005. There have been days in the four years since when he must have wondered about that decision, with the pressure which comes with being one of two Liverpudlians attempting to restore the club's pride more than perhaps any Premier League player must face. As he has put it: "I'm captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world, where you're expected to win every single game. Sometimes after a defeat, sitting on that bus, you feel as if you've got the world on your shoulders. Phone calls are coming in left, right and centre. It can get on top of you."

All the harder for an introspective soul like him and not a weight of responsibility which Liverpool's other recipients of the FWA award have faced. Steve Nicol, Kenny Dalglish and Terry McDermott were outsiders, playing in triumphant Liverpool sides, not Liverpudlians bearing the weight of responsibility. "They were heroes to my dad and so many other Liverpool fans," Gerrard said yesterday.

Though their relationship has taken some time to evolve, it is the understanding between Gerrard and Rafael Benitez which has been such a big part of him beating Giggs to the prize, by 10 votes. This has been the first full season in which the Spaniard has deployed Gerrard regularly in an advanced role behind Fernando Torres, free of the "graveyard shift" on the left wing, as he had come to know and loathe it. The partnership with Torres has been integral to Liverpool taking a major step closer to former glories. The side have lost none of the 12 games he and Torres have started together in the Premier League, won nine and netted 24 times in the process. "It's down to Rafa, he's helped me a lot," Gerrard said recently. "He's certainly helping me to improve in this position and I've been playing it quite a lot for Liverpool now, getting my head around it and really enjoying the freedom of playing in there. I've got two holding midfielders behind me at Liverpool doing an awful lot of running for me and freeing it up for me. That's when you get the best out of me, when I'm free to run at defenders and cause danger in the attacking third."

The events of this summer will dictate whether Gerrard is to continue in this role. Asked how Gerrard might fit in if Liverpool do sign Valencia's David Silva or another big-name attacking midfielder, Benitez recently suggested he might be ready to change the system. "Stevie can also play as a midfielder," he said.

Gerrard can now look forward to a 29 May awards ceremony which crowns a season in which he has scored his 100th goal for Liverpool, marked a decade at the club, been Premier League player of the month once and been awarded a new five-year contract. "I was a little bit surprised but when I did take the call and got the news, it was a great feeling for me," Gerrard said.

Gee Whizz: Four games where Gerrard ran the show

Newcastle 1 Liverpool 5 (28 December 2008, Premier League)

The captain inspires a Yuletide rout at St James' to deepen the Magpies' relegation fears and open up a three-point gap over Chelsea to top the Premier League going into 2009. Gerrard scored the first before adding a fourth after a fine solo run.

Liverpool 4 Real Madrid 0 (10 March 2009, Champions League)

Orchestrates humbling of La Liga side as the Reds stroll to a 5-0 aggregate victory. Goals from Gerrard either side of half-time lay the foundations for a historic victory.

Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4 (14 March, Premier League)

Gerrard again leads the way as the Reds storm to victory to close the gap on United to four points. His penalty gives Reds the half-time lead before late goals from Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena condemn United to heaviest home loss in 17 years.

Liverpool 5 Aston Villa 0 (22 March, Premier League)

The midfielder hits his first league treble as Liverpool coast to a win that worsens Villa's slide and move the Reds to within a point of United at the top.

James Mariner

23 goals

Steve Gerrard has scored 23 times in 42 games this season, equalling his best tally for a single campaign.

479

Number of games Gerrard has played for Liverpool. He made his debut as a late substitute for Vegard Heggem, against Blackburn in November 1998.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee