Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has revealed how Steven Gerrard told him it was the “best day of his career” when the Frenchman handed the captain’s armband to the midfielder for the first time.
The Kop hero is set to become the Reds’ longest-serving captain in the club’s illustrious history this season and Houllier believes that handing Gerrard the responsibility at a young age helped him to realize his potential as a great leader.
“I met Stevie after the Champions League final in Istanbul and asked him if that was the best day of his life,” the ex-Anfield boss told the Liverpool Echo.
“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.”
Houllier recalled how he was taken aback by Gerrard’s leadership qualities beyond his years when watching him in an U-19s game — a catalyst in the Huyton native’s rapid promotion to the senior squad.
“I remember Steve Heighway asked me to watch a game because I told him I needed a right-winger,” Houllier added. “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 U-19 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 taken 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.”
The Frenchman had confidence that Gerrard would revel in the captaincy role and the decision proved to be a masterstroke as the 33-year-old achieved a seamless transition in replacing Sami Hyypia.
“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,” Houllier explained. “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.
“You have different levels of players. There 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 [UEFA] Champions League. He played a major part in that.”
In addition to his Anfield duties, the Liverpool No. 8 also wears the armband for England. His proud former manager believes both sides will continue to benefit from Gerrard’s leadership qualities.
“I am pleased for Stevie,” the Thérouanne-born manager concluded. “It is a good reward to be captain of England. He must be absolutely over the moon.
“He is a winner and he will give an urge to drive them on all the time. He never gives up. He leads by example, giving a lot of mental and physical energy to himself and the team.
“His game should be even better. He likes responsibility. He likes when people trust him. That is when he can surpass himself and deliver even more.”
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com