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Happy Birthday Captain Fantastic!

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Today is Steven Gerrard's birthday so let's take some time to celebrate Liverpool's captain and legend.

This was our dashing captain yesterday.
This was our dashing captain yesterday.
Andrew Redington

Steven Gerrard turns 34 today and he is a veteran midfielder of exceptional pedigree who has played for Liverpool his entire career. He may not have won as many trophies as his England colleagues at Chelsea or Manchester United, but he has played a pivotal role in numerous cup finals that have brought him some notable pieces of silverware. Every Liverpool fan wanted Steven Gerrard to have turned 34 today with a first Premier League medal but it was not to be.

Liverpool's captain has at least a couple of seasons left where he can still contribute towards a title challenge and tilts at silverware in cups to add to his collection. The man from Whiston hasn't had a bad career has he?109 England caps and 21 international goals. Six international tournaments and he'll be heading into his seventh, a fourth World Cup and a first as captain. His last international tournament, where he featured as a deep-lying midfielder at Euro 2012, confirmed that his considerable influence may have changed but not waned as he made the UEFA Team of the Tournament. No other England player, from a squad that reached the quarter finals, was selected.

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His club career has been punctuated with moments of beauty and force. Steven Gerrard will always be known as a whirlwind of a midfielder. He would tackle here, pass there, track back over there, forage forward somewhere, shoot from Fowler knows where to the dismay of goalkeepers who were helpless as another ball brutally rocketed past their flailing arms. 16 seasons as a Liverpool player and he will surely reach 18 at least. He's scored in 15 consecutive Premier League seasons and amazingly, last season was his second best in goals return after the 2008/2009 season.

Steven Gerrard has 666 appearances for Liverpool to date and that number is supposedly the mark of the beast, an entity that should be feared and causes havoc in the lives of innocents. Steven Gerrard is a freak of a player, a true "beast" in what has become a conventional noun to describe footballers of fearsome athletic and technical ability. He could have left the club and maybe wanted to leave at one stage but he remained loyal. Whatever the reasons were for Gerrard staying, this Liverpool fan is grateful for it.

This is a Liverpool legend who isn't living off past glories. Sure, he's the only player to have scored in an FA Cup final, a League Cup final, a UEFA Cup final, and a Champions League final. Of course, he holds the record for PFA Team of the Year appearances (eight) and has won five domestic cups (not counting the Community/Charity shield) as well as four continental cups but he is still relevant. Steven Gerrard is still here. 13 goals and 13 assists in Liverpool's recent league campaign is a noteworthy return from a deeper midfield position, albeit with some attacking and play-making responsibilities.

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This season has posed questions about Gerrard's contribution and his role. The leadership? Many young players were supported by Gerrard's example on the field to do his best and always take responsibility. The team spirit is at its highest levels at the club for decades and as captain, Gerrard plays a vital role in ensuring that this is maintained and fostered within the group. The staff support? Steven Gerrard was instrumental in bringing Dr Steve Peters to Liverpool because the good doctor trusted "a very genuine person" who he became familiar with over time. In terms of legacy, Dr Peters may still be here long after our captain has retired.

The goals? Many were penalties but look at any international tournament and tell the world that taking penalties isn't a test of technique, accuracy, and mental fortitude. My friends, this is no easy task.  Scoring so many penalties illustrates the focus and consistency of Liverpool's captain. The penalty against Fulham and the brace of penalties against Manchester United were memorable examples of Gerrard ensuring that Liverpool's good work in the penalty area through attacking and pressing was not wasted.

In fact, only when there was no pressure (his third against an already beaten and demoralised Manchester United side at Old Trafford) did Gerrard miss a penalty. It didn't matter but if it did, Gerrard would have scored. Two goals that "opened the scoring" come to mind.The header against Everton in the 4 nil thrashing at Anfield and the free-kick against Sunderland in the 2-1 home victory show that Gerrard can still make an impact without penalties.

How many points is a reliable penalty taker worth? What about a set-piece titan? Then there are the tempo setting qualities Liverpool's number 8 offers along with the raking passes that open up as well as speed up Liverpool's attacking play. Brendan Rodgers has often enthused about Steven Gerrard the man but is convinced that Gerrard will still be an important figure for Liverpool as a deep-lying play-maker, a role that is different from a defensive midfielder.

Steven is not - and he will tell you himself - at 33 what he was at 23. But what he still has are world class qualities such as his passing and his reading of the game. You see with his passing range - short and long - that he can really contribute from there. I believe that role could prolong his career into his late 30s.

Liverpool are constructing a midfield to suit Gerrard by having energetic players around him and Rodgers' quest for more goals was made possible with Gerrard's inclusion in the side. There are deficiencies in such a midfield construct with Gerrard at its base as a controller but an overwhelmingly positive goal difference indicates the promise in Brendan Rodgers' concoction. He has made some mistakes defensively and is not exempt from scrutiny in terms of performances. However, all players are not equal. Not every Liverpool player has played at Liverpool for as long as Gerrard has done, remained when others left, and delivered or never stopped trying to deliver for the success of the club.

One of Liverpool's greatest ever players was instrumental in the effervescent and relentless attacking football that brought Liverpool the closest to the title for nearly a quarter of a century. The story of such a title challenge wouldn't be complete without Gerrard playing a role in misfortune that will be forever attached to a season of wonder but that is what makes any story so engaging. The quest, the personal cost, the dream, the mistakes, the suspense, the regrets, the moments of beauty, the promise of a better tomorrow, and the opportunity for redemption.

Sometimes I wonder how lonely Gerrard must have felt at Liverpool. When he thought he finally found someone who could share the burden with him, off they went. Fowler, Owen, Torres. He may be in his twillight years but look who surrounds our captain now. Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, and the redoubtable Luis Suárez.

You don't need to it all on your own anymore.

You don't need to do all the running. You don't need to play all the through balls for others to benefit from. You don't need to play right wing and trouble fullbacks. You don't need to score goals all the time. You don't need to be our talisman. You don't need to it all on your own anymore. You can focus on playing your role in the team, which is still an important one, in search of future glories. Each player can do something you once did and with all the things you did at once, I think you deserve it Steve...I think you bloody deserve it.

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Happy birthday Steven George Gerrard. Enjoy the World Cup and don't get injured because next season, we'll go again.

Steven Gerrard - The Legend - Tribute (via DaredeviIGR)

Steven Gerrard - Captain Fantastic - Passes, Vision, Assists & Goals 2013 / 2014 - MRCLFCompilations (via MRCLFCompilations)