Liverpool title would crown Steven Gerrard as true legend
As club marks Hillsborough anniversary, Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers drive Liverpool forward
LIVERPOOL will today remember the 96 fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago and, as Brendan Rodgers's side aim for a first league title for 24 years, the emotion on Merseyside is reaching a crescendo.
Two men are central to the drama being played out this spring. The first is young Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers who has established a strong bond with the club and has been asked by the families of the Hillsborough victims to read a memorial at the service at Anfield today.
"Rodgers possesses a gift for finding the right word at the right moment," says Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph. "It is clear how deeply he cares. If a manager can be a shepherd, Liverpool have someone special tending their flock on and off the field."
The disaster and its legacy "has come to preoccupy and inspire many Liverpool managers", notes The Independent. "And beyond the acts of remembrance, Liverpool's players maintain the belief, instilled in them by Rodgers, that they can mark the anniversary year by reclaiming the title, which they last won in 1990."
The second figure is Reds captain, Steven Gerrard, who could legitimately take his place among the bereaved at Anfield today as his ten-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was among the victims of the crush in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday's ground during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Gerrard wept after Liverpool's gripping victory over Man City on Sunday, and subsequently admitted that his tears were for his young cousin. He then regained his composure to deliver a barnstorming lecture to his team-mates exhorting them not to let the title slip away.
Few expected Gerrard ever to win the Premier League, but now the prize is within in his grasp he clearly has no intention of letting it go.
Gerrard's "intensity and emotion as Liverpool seek to attain what had seemed unlikely in his footballing lifetime has taken some by surprise," says the Independent.
But he badly wants the title, and he deserves it. The idea of "loyalty" in football is often overplayed, says Matt Dickinson in The Times. But "in the case of Steven Gerrard, it is hard to escape the feeling that his loyalty has gone beyond what is normal".
The Liverpool captain's reaction to victory on Sunday was "one of the most powerful and affecting sights for a long time in English sport", he says. "Sometimes it is easy, or convenient, to be loyal. Once upon a time players had no choice. Gerrard had plenty. Who could not be happy for him if he now enjoys an astonishing and unexpected reward?"
The Daily Mail goes further. "Should he lead Liverpool to the title this season, and crown an extraordinary career with the one gong that has proven so elusive, he will have to be recognised as the greatest player of the Barclays Premier League era."