We've all had the conversations about Steven Gerrard over the years. One person will question his defensive or tactical nous and the other will assume a position of affronted indignation, whilst pointing out a sliding tackle that saved three points. Or perhaps, one person will venture that Gerrard is not the vocal and selfless leader the team needs, being prone to bouts of on-field, shoulder-slumped, introspective gloom whereas the other person will throw their sandwich at the wall and turn a shade of puce, whilst mouthing the word 'Istanbul' in a threatening throaty gurgle.
Nobody, however, saving that one idiot that Sky employ to burn whatever shirt is apposite on a given day, has ever argued about Gerrard's loyalty to Liverpool Football Club. He is a truly totemic figure at Anfield, in a way that nobody has been since Kenny Dalglish. Magnificent footballers and managers have graced the Liverpool dressing rooms since Dalglish left in 1991, but none have been so iconic as Gerrard. A combination of a burgeoning media, the preeminence of the Premier League and the player's own brilliance have established him as Mr Liverpool in the eyes of supporters and outsiders alike.
Every so often, Gerrard will remind you, as Jamie Carragher more regularly did, that he is, at heart, a Liverpool fan. His sentiments will betray his passionate partisan inclinations and it would be a lie to say that these expressions of one-eyed desire are not truly invigorating for a fan to hear. This game we obsess unhealthily about is, at its core, both cripplingly serious and utterly inconsequential. Being a fan is a one-way ticket to Crazytown and we pay willingly to take the journey because of a human desire to belong. When a hero, a nonpareil, like Steven Gerrard speaks with the same raw passion we do, it matters.
It was bracing, then, to hear Gerrard speak enthusiastically about the season to come. Thus far, the memo about not mentioning the whole 'top four' nonsense seems to have been received by most at the club and the captain preferred to speak more about the progress made by others and how, added to Liverpool's own recruitment drive, it should bring about an "interesting" season.
"There's no getting away from it," insisted Gerrard. "The competition in the Premier League is going to get stronger and stronger. Manchester City are going to add to their squad, Jose Mourinho is back at Chelsea and we are going to make numerous signings. Tottenham and Arsenal are going to come back again..."
The captain reserved special mention, however, for our friends from up the M62. The rivalry with Manchester United is one of the defining aspect of being a Liverpool fan. Once, in a distant past of actual letters and dial-phones, my Manc friends were permanently envious of Liverpool's status as Europe's finest, whilst still quietly convinced that they were indeed a massive club. For more than two decades now, the opposite scenario has been the case and so it is through the prism of much hurt that we view United and their dominance. Steven Gerrard, as much as anyone, has felt that hurt.
"They [United] have replaced a world-class manager with another, who has done a fantastic job at Everton," said a mischievous Gerrard. "So I think David will continue to do a good job there. It's new for Manchester United. From a biased point-of-view, let's hope they have a wobble!"
You can be a noble, holier-than-thou sort, if you wish -- it takes all sorts -- but I will admit to having an impish grin on my face as I read the captain's observations. The Scouse/Manc rivalry is a strange thing. It divides families and friends. As I read Gerrard's observations aloud and that devilish smirk crept across my lips, my friend, a United fan of the same vintage as I, assumed a thunderous expression and insisted that our captain was being "naughty" and "on the wind-up." Perspective, dear reader, it's all about perspective.
As far as Liverpool's own campaign, Gerrard was pleasingly low-key for the most part, whilst not sounding in the least bit unenthusiastic. A succession of dubious summer purchases have, no doubt, chastened our number eight somewhat and, in an interview with Liverpoolfctv at his foundation's charity golf-day, he was circumspect in his observations whilst maintaining an admirable positivity.
"It's always important to get faces in as soon as possible; they can get a full pre-season under their belt, get to know the lads and how the manager wants to play. There are some exciting names in there so everyone is excited. I know very little about them but I have got a lot of confidence and belief in Brendan and the scouting department that they are going to make the right decisions and I have seen bits and bobs of new signings we have made. I am really looking forward to getting back to work next week and seeing what the new players have got to offer and see if they can help strengthen our squad to put in a better fight for a top four finish"
Up until that last sentence, I could not have been more pleased with Gerrard's words but he had to go and do it. He had use the words 'top' and 'four' in succession. Inwardly, I slumped a little on hearing it and then it struck me that if Champions League football isn't always the most basic ambition of Liverpool Football Club, then it has utterly lost its way. To be fair to Gerrard, his language is carefully judged and hardly the stuff of bluster or vainglorious rhetoric. It is we, as supporters, who must adjust our attitudes here.
Steven Gerrard is the captain of Liverpool Football Club. He must, and does, reflect that in the way he speaks of the club's ambitions. Like him, I openly crave the chance to claim dominion once more over Manchester United. Last time we won the league, I painstakingly dialled each digit of my United-worshipping mate's number to speak to him of our victory. Perhaps one day soon, embracing modern technology, I will have the pleasure of looking at his embittered face on the screen of my phone as I gloat. We can but dream.