Gerard Houllier has paid Steven Gerrard the ultimate tribute by placing him amongst the top three players he has ever managed.
The man who led the Reds to the treble in 2001 has worked with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, but puts the Liverpool captain up firmly in his ultimate triumvirate of stars to have managed.
And as Gerrard approaches his 600th game in a red shirt, in an exclusive interview with Liverpoolfc.com, Houllier recalls giving the No.8 his debut and speaks of his pride at the player and person he has evolved into over the years...
Gerard, you gave Steven his Liverpool debut at Tottenham in December 1998 - was that an easy decision for you at the time?
When you have to deal with good players it's not a difficult decision to take because he imposed himself into the team. He was ready anyway, so I'm pleased we started him early in the business.
Can you remember the first time you saw Steven at the Academy? What special qualities made him stand out?
I remember Steve Heighway asked me to watch a game because I told him I needed a right-winger. He called me to a game where Richie Partridge was involved and he thought he would be the answer to our problems on the right. I think it was an U19 game against Blackburn and I remember in the middle of the park there was this boy I didn't know at the time going box to box, shouting at people and already behaving like a leader. He was quick, he was tackling and could see a pass quickly. Even if we had took Richie with us and given him a chance, I wanted to have Stevie. At the time the coaches said we couldn't because he's always injured. I said, 'I'm the boss, so he is coming with us'. Sammy Lee and Patrice Bergues looked after him very carefully and gradually he became the player we know today.
You also gave him the club captaincy, which he has held ever since. Just tell us about when you decided to change from Sami Hyypia to Steven and the reasons for that?
There were two reasons. One is Sami was - and still is - a huge figure at Liverpool, but Stevie is a natural leader and I thought the armband would boost his game even more. At the same time, Sami was not performing that well at that time and I think the captaincy was a pressure on him. He understood that and he was quite happy with the decision as Sami is an intelligent player. I met Stevie after the Champions League final in Istanbul and asked him if it was that his best day of his life. He said no, and told me the best day of his career was when I gave him the captain's armband at Liverpool. Don't forget he was 22 when I made him captain but you could see he was a natural born leader and he could have an influence and an impact on everybody. The second leader would have been naturally Jamie Carragher.
He scored in some memorable finals for you Gerard - the UEFA Cup final in Dortmund and the Worthington Cup against Man United in Cardiff spring to mind. What's your favourite memory with Steven?
Plenty - I mean all of them! I keep the good and bad memories but obviously beating Manchester United in a final is something special for Liverpool. Don't forget, Stevie had been banned for a few games before the final. We sent him to Dubai to have a rest and top players always deliver in top games - you saw that with Luis Suarez in the derby.
You have managed and coached some special players in your career like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry- how highly would you place Steven Gerrard?
In the top three, definitely. You have different levels of players. There's are Premier League, international and world-class levels. The world-class level is players at the peak of their career and there's only maybe 50 maximum in the whole world. Stevie moved from a Premier League player to an international player and then world class. You win things with world-class players. I was lucky enough to have Stevie at the right time when I was at Liverpool, and even when I left they won the Champions League. He played a major part in that.
So, as he approaches his 600th game for the club, what does Steven Gerrard mean to Liverpool Football Club?
You could ask him what Liverpool means to him and then you would have the answer. When you see the number of trophies that Steven has won it compares to Kenny's trophies. Stevie is Liverpool.
How proud have you been watching Gerrard achieve what he has - England captain, Champions League winner and even an MBE...
I was very proud when he won the Champions League because I thought that was something really special, and also the way he turned the game in the favour of Liverpool. They really played a major part in that victory, Stevie and Carra. They played a major part in that Champions League run.
People talk about him and Kenny Dalglish as the greatest Liverpool players ever - would you go for Stevie?
No, I don't like to compare generations. They are different players and they brought different qualities to Liverpool. I would have liked to have had both Stevie and Kenny in the same team!
How long do you think he can go on delivering top performances?
He's nearly at 600, so I wish him to go on and play another 600 games for Liverpool! Why not? If he looks after himself he can keep going and keep playing. The only advice I would give him is play as long as you can.