In a guest post for Liverpoolfc.com's Talking Reds series, football writer Neil Scott examines the attributes and moments which have made Steven Gerrard more than just 'another Liverpool player' ahead of his testimonial.
The first time you saw him, you could tell that he was more than just another player. There was something about the way he held himself, the way he approached the game, something that compelled you to notice him.
Typically, when a promising young talent is given the chance at senior level, logic dictates that he will concentrate initially on getting the easy things right, embracing a cautious, risk-averse approach at the expense of the bold and the audacious. Steven Gerrard was never one to follow convention.
On his first Anfield start, a UEFA Cup tie with Celta Vigo in December 1998, he eschewed the accepted notions, displaying an assurance and maturity that would come to define him. He sprayed the ball around the pitch like a junior Molby, thundered into tackles like a fresh-faced Souness. He took it upon himself to control the centre of the pitch as if it were his personal dominion, repelling enemy incursions with craft and ferocity.
For an 18 year old, it was a performance of uncommon poise and promise.
And it was a performance that, nearly fifteen years on, stands as a microcosm of Gerrard's Liverpool career. Never afraid to take responsibility, leading by example, refusing to accept that a game can fail to be moulded to his will.
Qualities we have seen again and again, from Anfield to Dortmund, from Cardiff to Istanbul.
Of course, as impressive as the fledgling Steven Gerrard was, few would have guessed that he would become one of the most influential players in the history of the club. But as he celebrates a testimonial that is as keenly anticipated as it is well-deserved, there is little doubt that his place in Anfield's folklore is secure.
Once settled in his favoured central midfield role, it quickly became apparent that the gifts Gerrard possessed set him apart from the norm. Energy, power, pin-point distribution, a thunderous shot, the touch of an artist. And something else, something perhaps even more fundamental. He had nerve. The kind of nerve that allowed him to try the things others shied away from, to stand alongside Roy Keane and Patrick Viera and say to himself, "You know what? I'm better than you," and to make us believe it unreservedly.
In truth, there were plenty of reasons to believe. Of course, it always helps if you develop an uncanny knack for the spectacular goal along the way; more so if your greatest rivals are on the receiving end. The 35-yard detonation that left Manchester United's Fabien Barthez clutching Anfield's thin air like an overactive mime artist was both a statement of intent and a call to arms. As Gerrard became a totemic figure in the heart of the Liverpool team, our belief was only strengthened.
His exploits in the 2004-05 Champions League campaign have passed into legend. From the euphoria of the 'What a hit, son' strike against Olympiakos to the impossible comeback in Istanbul, where he challenged us to hold our belief and rewarded us for our faith with a display of leadership and inspiration few have ever matched. This was the point at which Steven Gerrard stopped being our private property and ascended to something approaching iconic status. If it was responsibility he wanted, Istanbul ensured that he would now always carry the weight of our expectations with him.
In fact, it may be argued that not since Billy Liddell have the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club been so reliant on the performances of one individual. Throughout the glory years of the 60s, the 70s and the 80s, the team was the star. Players of world-class ability flourished within the confines of a perfectly-honed, collectivised system, where the team grew to be even greater than the sum of its parts. Although the principles remained in place, it was clear that in Gerrard we had someone who transcended the traditional approach, who was our own Roy of the Rovers made flesh. And if it was a burden he struggled to endure, he disguised it pretty well.
The 2006 FA Cup final saw him produce arguably the competition's most decisive individual contribution since Stanley Matthews shimmied his way into Wembley history back in 1953. Two stunning strikes (the latter of which defied exhaustion, despair and the laws of natural physics), an assist and a penalty. Twelve months after his finest hour, Steven Gerrard proved that football miracles weren't just comic-book fantasies; they were part of his job description.
And as his career has progressed, and the magic has continued unabated, so his versatility has come to the fore. He has played on the right, as a second striker and, most recently, as a deep-lying playmaker. But no matter the role, he has achieved a standard and a consistency that few can aspire to and even less can attain.
It is a pointless, ultimately self-defeating task to try to anoint any individual as the greatest ever Liverpool player. Advocates of different vintages, different eras, will each have their own favourites. That's how it should be. But it is a measure of Steven Gerrard's quality and his stature that he can be mentioned in the same breath as Kenny Dalglish, as Kevin Keegan, as John Barnes and Billy Liddell. That in itself is a colossal tribute to all he has accomplished in the red shirt.
With Jamie Carragher now retired, Gerrard's role at the club has become even more significant, as an ambassador and a representative of the city. Now more than ever, it is crucial that the link between the local fan-base and those who embody their hopes on the pitch is maintained - in this respect, Steven Gerrard may even be seen as the club's beating heart.
It is fitting that Olympiacos have been asked to provide the opposition in his testimonial match. It is a reminder of an extraordinary Anfield night and of Gerrard's unerring capacity for coming to our rescue just when all seemed lost. It is also a reminder that, despite being tempted by the riches on offer elsewhere, ultimately he chose to stay loyal, to live out his boyhood dreams - to lead out his team in front of the Kop, to burst the net with yet another jet-propelled piledriver, to lift cups. He's one of a dying breed; we'll be lucky to see his like again.
So, I'll be at Anfield on Saturday to show my appreciation. And my mind will go back 15 years, to a skinny kid looking to make his mark on the game. So much has happened since then. So many lung-bursting runs, so many vital goals, so many memorable moments. But one thing remains unchanged.
Steven Gerrard is more than just another player. So much more.