Following a hugely satisfactory week for Steven Gerrard, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has heaped the highest of praise on the midfielder for his “remarkable” consistency for club and country.
The 33-year-old provided the final flourish with a clever dribble and finish to guide England to a 2-0 victory over Poland on Tuesday night — a result which booked the Three Lions’ berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
In scoring from the penalty spot against Crystal Palace earlier this month, the No. 8 moved onto 99 Barclays Premier League goals for his club, having also featured for every minute of the competition so far in 2013-14.
“It’s remarkable really. You saw him in the game during the week as well,” Rodgers told reporters at his pregame press conference at Melwood Thursday. ”What gets lost with Steven sometimes is that people talk about him as this great captain and a great leader, and what people forget is that he’s still a world-class player.
“He’s got big talent. He scored what you would probably say was a typical Gerrard goal the other night — breaking forward with power and pace and just when it looked like it was getting away from him, he reached and got his toe to it with a great finish.
“It’s something I’ve been fully aware of since I’ve been here. He’s probably the best player that I’ve ever worked with. The quality he can play with when the tempo is really high in a game is incredible.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with top, world-class players at Chelsea and some brilliant technicians when I was at Swansea.
“He’s a remarkable man and a remarkable captain. England should be honored to have someone like that represent them on and off the field.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again — he looks after himself so well and he’s so professional and he’s still got a number of years left in him yet to turn in great performances.
“He always thinks of others. He’s a wonderful example for the players there. Steven doesn’t say a great deal, but when he does, the senior players around him and all the players will listen.
“He’s a respected figure. But there’s no doubt that he takes a real responsibility within the group and he doesn’t just think about himself. Liverpool and England have benefited from that.”
England’s success in qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil will give Gerrard the opportunity to skipper his country on the biggest stage in international soccer.
Rodgers considers such an honor simply due reward for the service provided by the midfielder throughout his career and hopes his commitment can be rewarded in South America.
“At that level, there’s no doubt that he’s been exceptional in his performances,” the manager continued. “He’s put himself out there and he has over 100 caps now.
“No matter where he’s playing, he’s very proud. I know from working closely with him that he’s very proud to play for his country.
“I think he probably knows next year will be his last shot and I’m sure he’ll be giving everything. Hopefully England will go there with expectancy among the group and then they can go and flourish.
“I’ve always thought for many years that England has the talent and the technical players, who can tactically participate in the game at a high level. It’s just whether they are asked or encouraged to do that.”
Rodgers can welcome four players back into his squad for the trip to Newcastle this weekend — Joe Allen, Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson are fully fit again, while Lucas Leiva returns from suspension.
Despite entering the international break with a 3-1 home win over Palace, the 40-year-old insisted there was room for improvement from his team, and he repeated that theory on Thursday.
“We’ll get better as we grow together more,” he said. “The Premier League is very difficult.
“I go on about performance because I don’t just like to get three points. I worry about playing well and playing in a certain way. That’s always how I’ve been.
“But I can’t take anything away from how we’ve been so far. In terms of results, we’ve been absolutely brilliant. This is the most competitive league in the world.
“But it shows you how much growth there is still left in the team, that we can win games 3-1 and I can come away a little bit dissatisfied because of the performance.
“What I can’t argue with is the work of the players, the honesty of the players, how humble they are and how willing they are to come in to train every day to be better.
“I’ve got a great group here that I think will get better — that’s something that we aim to do, always improve. If we can do that and continue to win games, then of course I’ll be happy.”
When the Reds traveled to St James’ Park earlier this year, an unceasing attacking display brought rich rewards as Rodgers’ charges returned to Merseyside on the back of a handsome 6-0 victory.
The Northern Irishman insisted that, although that result occurred just six months ago, it will have no effect on Saturday’s early Premier League kick-off — which could see Liverpool reclaim the top spot, at least temporarily.
“In our game last year, we were exceptional up there in our performance level,” the boss said. “We made a really good start, got an early goal and then our performance level from that was exceptional.
“We weathered a bit of a storm in the first 10 minutes of the second half then got the third goal. We had great control of the game. Our energy, movement and our finishing was really clinical on the day.
“With all due respect, it probably has no bearing on the game at the weekend. It’s going to be a tough game, but we’re full of confidence and real belief in the team.
“It will be a tough match for us but we’re looking forward to it. We just need to maintain our commitment. We know every game is a cup final for us this season.
“There will be even greater motivation from our perspective, because we know that Newcastle are coming off the back of a really good result at Cardiff.
“It hasn’t been so easy for them at home. It’s a difficult place — you’ve got some 50,000 really passionate supporters who demand that you play attacking football.
“Our players know that when you play at this level, it’s the type of stadium you want to play in. It will be a great atmosphere and a game that we’re looking to perform well in and take the three points.”
The manager was also quizzed on academy youngster Harry Wilson, who, at just 16 years of age, made a senior international debut for Wales in its World Cup qualifier against Belgium on Tuesday.
Rodgers quickly dismissed suggestions that the winger could be ready for a Premier League bow, instead stressing that the Wrexham-born talent must be afforded time to develop naturally.
“He’s a very talented young player,” he said. “To have him here at the club is brilliant.
“I was first aware when I had a call from Ian Rush to say that he had done well in training and that Chris Coleman was very pleased with how he had been, and the possibilities of having him involved.
“It escalated from there. He did well in training and was then put into the squad.
“He’s a very talented young player that knows he’ll have a great opportunity here if he continues to develop at Liverpool. It’s important that we just stay calm and let him develop at his own rate.”