Survivor of the Golden Generation Steven Gerrard writes his own origin story | Steven gerrard


There is an interesting and arguably very common phenomenon called parasocial interaction. This is where people feel they have an intimate and reciprocal relationship with a famous person, a belief that by consuming images of that person, thinking about it, the mirror becomes a two-way glass; that they can see you too.

We all understand that to some extent, right down to the entry-level version where you spot a famous person on the street and by the way automatically say hello-all-well-how are you-brother-sure- to -later-ha-ha-ha-luck-how-is-Tanya, because obviously you must know them, and then five steps further you realize that was Howard from Take That.

It probably depends on your age and your cultural obsessions how this manifests. I get a wave of that feeling, and a strange kind of family tenderness, when I see players from the Golden Generation era in English men’s football: when the world was young, when the Premier League seemed offer a voraciously hungry new frontier. For the players, it was kind of an unplanned social experiment. Let’s throw money, fame, and malicious attention to these young men. Don’t give them filters, protective layers, or real advice. Let’s see how they react.

In its heyday – the 2006 World Cup, the Baden-Baden Supremacy – there was a tendency to view footballers as the height of celebrity-driven debauchery. They bought some cool vellum-covered cars and wore solid gold bowler hats and vintage Parmesan shoes. They had – one of the biggest crimes of all – wives and girlfriends. The world can seem like a vicious place right now. But it was vicious in other ways at the time.

Another key point of difference: the players were essentially silent. We didn’t hear their voices much and didn’t know what they were thinking like we do now. Perhaps because of this, the footballers of the time looked giant in scale, a selection of Easter Island heads – the maid, the amorous rat, the moron – and projection screens for our own feelings of dying. love, need, envy, lust.

It’s a scar that you can still see now. The players of this era look like survivors. Still a little exhausted and bruised, but strangely heroic too. They were the first. They lived it alone. And looking back, we never knew much about them.

It’s a long way around Steven Gerrard, who returns to Anfield with Aston Villa on Saturday, and who could turn out to be the most interesting graduate from a very distinct group.

First, Saturday is not an audition. People keep saying it. But how could it be? Gerrard has just become Villa Manager, a huge job in itself. Jürgen Klopp was already an elite coach when Liverpool hired him. On Saturday afternoon he will field one of the great modern club teams, currently on a sublime six-game winning streak in 19 days, with 17 goals scored and Klopp snooded on the sideline beaming with graying alpha power, another wave of light and fury. Hear that with your legacy mid-season Aston Villa.

Steven Gerrard is destined to manage Liverpool, insists Jürgen Klopp - video
Steven Gerrard is destined to manage Liverpool, insists Jürgen Klopp – video

And yet, maybe it really is an audition, the same way everything is to some degree. Certainly, Gerrard has proven to be a compelling prospect as a manager. The most interesting part is how different he is, ideologically opposed to Gerrard the player.

Young Gerrard was a wonderful thing, explosively brilliant even in his defensive work, and in a way that’s strangely outdated now. Looking back, it seems, in those early years, to boil down to a single pair of galloping legs: all radical energy, dazzling workouts, slalom, pond skater dribbling, prized football third eye wide open.

Gerrard the manager is something else; modern, controlled and defensively disciplined. During their winning season, his Rangers team conceded 13 goals in 38 games. His first acts at Villa were to tighten up and add resistance. Goals against, xG against, shots against: all have been mastered. Villa plays fewer long passes and presses much harder in the deep areas. This is not all Gerrard at all.

Where is it? If the era of the comic book movie franchise tells us anything, it’s that origin stories are your energy source, the key to your ultimate destiny. This is my Gerrard origin story. All good managers are driven by some kind of injury. Gerrard was maimed during those golden years, when football struggled to hold onto a part of itself. Hence the feeling of something old school and pleasantly ruthless.

But his main injury is 2013-14 and the league title lost. Gerrard the player was always encouraged to gallop, to crush. He gave a speech on the pitch during this meeting which seemed disastrously overexcited (a weakness: the main man of Liverpool, their leader, had the desperation of a first winner.). In the end, the 2013-14 Liverpool were cut right in the middle of the decisive game against Chelsea.

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So Gerrard forms teams to heal this injury. He becomes the kind of coach who would have won the league for Gerrard the player. It is the management of football as therapy, as a resolution, as a narrative arc. It’s pretty good, isn’t it? Completely invented, a story perhaps invented out of odds and ends; but a story all the same. Who knows, it might just take a life of its own. Gerrard still has a distrust which now translates into authority. He’s clearly obsessed with football and obsessed with winning. He wouldn’t be a DNA manager in Liverpool. This is not a badge waffle or a culture joke. He’s got a style, and is going to stand or fall on how far he can go.

Maybe he can even become the first of this generation to become a top manager. A few have tried. Wayne Rooney does redemptive things, powerfully bearded in the Derby County Wreckage. Ashley Cole, who was treated really badly at the time, looks very shrewd and might have already served as England Under-21.

Either way, the Goldens, those old family faces, deserve a little slack. Gerrard, still one of the most opaque, has perhaps just entered into an authentic second life as a footballer.


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