Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is once again showing the pride he feels to be wearing the famous Red shirt. Subject of a lot of criticism this season after being linked – all season – with a move to Chelsea, Gerrard has said he’ll talk about his future with Rafa Benitez and Rick Parry in the summer. Prior to that though Gerrard is looking forward immensely to the Champions League Final on Wednesday: "As a Liverpool lad, I’m not only proud to be leading the team out, but also to be following in a great tradition. There aren’t many players from this city who have had this kind of opportunity. I know all the stories about 1977 when there were a lot of local lads in the team, then there were a couple who played for Aston Villa. But there aren’t many lads from Liverpool who have had the honour of being captain in a European Cup final."
Former Reds assistant manager Phil Thompson was one of those players involved in Liverpool’s previous successes in the European Cup. Thompson is a passionate Red, and always enjoys the chance to talk about that golden age – something Gerrard wants to be able to do one day too: "Phil Thompson always used to tell us those great stories about winning it in 1981. He says it was the highlight of his career and something which he still thinks about all these years later. That’s exactly what we want to repeat."
Gerrard continued: "I know how much Tommo will be wanting me to go through the same experience. He’ll be sending me a good luck message before the game, like he always does, and I’m desperate to do it."
After spending most of the season fending off questions about his future, Gerrard perhaps let slip that he still expects to be at Anfield next season. He’s dreaming that he’ll get to lift the trophy, and if he does, he wants to take it home: "If we win it, and I can get the permission I need from the club, I’ll take the cup to Huyton to show all my friends and family. I should get plenty of opportunities to do so since we’ll get to keep it this time, if we win. I would organise a big party so everyone who has supported me could come along and see it. I know Tommo did the same thing in 1981. He lifted the European Cup and took it to Kirkby."
Gerrard is unlikely to leave Liverpool without them receiving a transfer fee for him – he’s got two years left on his current deal, a deal that he signed because at the time he didn’t want to leave Liverpool risking losing him on a free transfer. Michael Owen left at the start of this season because he only had one year left on his contract, and Rick Parry and Rafa Benitez didn’t want Liverpool to lose out on a transfer fee for him. The last high-profile player to do this to Liverpool was Steve McManaman, who went on to receive two European Cup medals for Real Madrid – including one where he scored. Gerrard points out: "The last Scouser to score in the European Cup Final is Macca, so there’s an incentive for Carra and me to match that. I’m also expecting to hear from Steve before the game because he’s another ex-player who’s always quick to say good luck or well done before or after a big game. I know he’ll be right behind us too."
Gerrard is a life-long Liverpool fan, and if he’d not made it as a player would almost certainly be travelling out to Istanbul as a fan. His mates are: "Since my mates started leaving for Turkey on Sunday, I’ve not been able to sleep. My family left for the game last weekend and that’s when it all started sinking in. I’ve not been able to think about anything else. The nearer it gets, the more you start thinking about what might happen. You can’t stop yourself. Now, we all just want it to start."
Gerrard’s father is going to be at the game too – not his first visit to watch the Reds in Europe: "My dad always followed Liverpool around Europe and I’m pretty sure he went to the last final we won. I was only four the last time we were in the final so I can’t remember the game. I’ve just had to watch the matches on video ever since, but when you’ve done that you can’t say you’ve had that feeling which the old players and fans felt then. The more we’ve heard about those times and seen the tapes, the more we’ve wanted a slice of history for ourselves. We’re determined to recreate our own experience which we’ll look back at in years to come."
To hear Gerrard talk is to hear the proof that Liverpool won’t lose tomorrow through a lack of motivation: "I want to be looking back and saying that this was the best week of my life. I want to be able to think about the whole occasion and say it didn’t get any better. But you can only do that if you win. There’s no point getting this far and then losing."
Losing is what Liverpool did in Cardiff against Chelsea in the Carling Cup. Gerrard thinks that defeat that day may prove to be an excellent learning experience. "We’ve got to use the fact we’ve lost one cup final already this season as a spur to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I know it may sound strange, but we can use that experience to help us. When you’ve suffered a big disappointment and you know how horrible it feels, it can make you even more determined to win next time. Nobody could have felt worse than I did after the Carling Cup Final and it’s been on all of our minds to make up for that disappointment ever since. Maybe it’s given us an extra yard in the cup games we’ve played since and if it does so again against AC Milan, that may prove the difference."
Gerrard was wrongly accused by many of not being interested against Chelsea – criticism that has been uncalled for. If he gets chance tomorrow he’s ready to prove it: "I know I don’t ever want to go through that feeling of being so close but not winning again and the rest of the lads will be feeling the same way. To get an opportunity in another final again so soon, particularly in the biggest competition of all, is fantastic.
Liverpool – as ever – have been criticised for their success in the Champions League this season. Even Milan have said that Liverpool’s play is boring and that they are incapable of attacking. Gerrard wants to prove on the pitch that Liverpool have what it takes to collect the big prize: "There’s a lot been said about us in the build-up to the game, saying we play this way or that. To be honest, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks if we win this trophy. Look at our record in the tournament. We’ve beaten the Italian and English Champions, scored some fantastic goals and, as far as I’m concerned, played some great football to fully deserve our place in the final. If we beat AC Milan, another one of the best teams in Europe, we’ll have won it on merit."
Gerrard spoke for all Reds fans and players when he said: "If the boys bring the cup home on Thursday, you won’t find a single Liverpool fan in the world caring what anybody else has got to say about it."