Gerrard – Liverpool vs Olympiakos – 2004

14 01 2011

Josh Askew is the editor of Holding Midfield – recently included in the Guardian 100 Football Blogs. It’s a great blog featuring original tactical analysis and comment. You can also follow Josh on Twitter @LeJask … this memorable Anfield moment is his favourite goal…

Why this is my favourite goal shouldn’t really need explaining. It’s a one in a million volley from a player who is, Kenny Dalglish aside, probably the best to have played for Liverpool, scored at the best possible time to save what turned out to be an incredible season.

The television presentation makes it stick in the mind of plenty of non-Liverpool fans too. Much like Jack van Gelder’s screams of “Dennis Bergkamp” added to the Dutchman’s World Cup goal against Argentina, Andy Gray’s “Oh, you beauty” remains the sole time he’s been worth listening to in an otherwise  pitiful media career, while the image of the Kop heaving forward, one bearded man in a blue jacket defiantly sticking arms aloft, staring down the camera before being engulfed by the rest of the crowd, juxtaposed with two Olympiakos fans, hands on head, deflated, is certainly something special.

But none of that is what makes it my favourite goal. Steven Gerrard makes the seemingly impossible look easy with such alarming regularity that it ceases to be special to a certain extent. The context is important of course, especially as we know what came after it, but its importance goes beyond that one season, while anyone whose favourite goal is decided on the quality of the television production needs to get back to watching their obscure Lithuanian cinema.

The truly great thing about the goal is the build-up.

A short throw-in comes to nothing, but the ball is only cleared a little distance outside the box to Jamie Carragher, who is then closed down by an Olympiakos player. Carragher then does a Cruyff turn – James Lee Duncan Carragher does a Cruyff turn. A. Cruyff. Turn. Pulling wide before turning back inside and crossing unopposed; the Olympiakos player is evidently too scared of being nutmegged to close him down again. The perfectly-lofted ball is dinked straight into the path of Neil Mellor who knocks it down with a “lovely cushioned header…FOR GERRARD!”

Of all the many rewritings of history that have surrounded Liverpool over the last few years, the opinion of Carragher remains the most widely ignored. When Rafa Benitez took over at Liverpool in 2004, Carragher was part of the deadwood to be cleared out. Seeing the success of Arsenal, Gerard Houllier had looked to open up the team, making Carragher’s place unstable even without his serious injuries. Within a year, the man whose enduring image had been picking up the ball, looking up, then swinging around and punting it back towards the keeper had become one of the best defenders in Europe, and that is no exaggeration. The turn around was remarkable, his shift to centre-back had him drawing praise from Franco Baresi, the man whom Benitez had given Carragher a catalogue of videos to learn from.

Meanwhile, Neil “Fat Steven Gerrard” Mellor, now of Sheffield Wednesday, almost doubled his Liverpool tally under Benitez, and, on top of his assist, had scored the momentum-building second against Olympiakos within two minutes of his introduction.

Djimi Traore, the Burnley disaster aside, came on leaps and bounds that season, culminating in his goalline clearances in the final. As did Igor Biscan. Jerzy Dudek and Vladimir Smicer put injury-struck campaigns behind them to make themselves heroes, and Milan Baros ran himself into the ground.

Mediocre managers can improve poor players. They can’t make them into Champions League winners. Benitez did the latter, but wasted no time in moving on from the win, always aiming higher. Benitez was always represented wrongly – every step of the way, Benitez had to fight against liars and back-stabbing snakes, he only wanted the control he was fighting for because those who he was meant to put his trust in were inept. Although, I’ve seen silly amounts of footage, I’m too young to have experienced the great Liverpool sides. With Benitez in charge Liverpool came as close to that glory as I’ve experienced, and did so firmly playing the Liverpool Way.  Then, for one season, everything that could possibly go wrong, did so.

The reason Liverpool fans mourned Benitez’s dismissal so much was that, much like Dalglish, he wasn’t finished. With Houllier you could sense he had done as much as he could, and you could see the same with Roy Hodgson after a handful of games, but with Benitez you felt he just needed the right backing to achieve greatness – something he ultimately never received.

That Gerrard goal captures everything the Rafalution was about: a moment of genius brought about by the machine-like team.




4 responses

14 01 2011

It’s always hard to pick just one, but this one is so good it’s always the first to pop up in my head when someone asks me about my favorite goal. Great strike + great timing + great atmosphere + great call by Andy Gray = perfection. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a Liverpool fan either. 😉 Great breakdown of the goal mate. I really enjoyed the read!

14 01 2011

Another fantastic peice by Mr Askew

15 01 2011

To be honest, I wanted to dislike it because it was Gerrard. I can’t find it in me though.. that is just a tremendous strike, Beautiful even.

18 01 2011

“Benitez was always represented wrongly – every step of the way, Benitez had to fight against liars and back-stabbing snakes, he only wanted the control he was fighting for because those who he was meant to put his trust in were inept.”

Rafa, is that you?

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