Steven Gerrard insisted he would not swap his Liverpool career for anything in the world as he reflected on 15 years of highs and lows ahead of his 600th appearance for the Reds.
The boy from Huyton has been Liverpool captain since the age of 23. He has won the European Cup, two FA Cups, a UEFA Cup and three League Cups and earlier this week his long-term teammate Jamie Carragher labelled him the Reds' all-time greatest player.
On Saturday, Gerrard sat down with Liverpoolfc.com at Melwood to discuss how the game has changed since he made his debut in 1998, how he has grown as a person in that time and to ponder the possibility of surpassing first Carra's (Carragher) appearance record and then Cally's (Ian Callaghan).
LiverpoolFC.com: Steven, 600 games for Liverpool, how does that make you feel?
Gerrard: When I was a young boy, I never dreamed I was going to make that many. It was all about pulling that red shirt on and making one appearance for the club and then the dream was made. So to clock up 600 games is a magnificent achievement for me and my family and everyone is really proud.
LiverpoolFC.com: A glance at the list of people you have surpassed on the appearance-holders list makes for impressive reading. The likes of John Barnes, Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish...
Gerrard: They are all people I have looked up to for many, many years. When I first started watching Liverpool on the terraces, John Barnes was the main man in the team. He was very exciting and one of my favourite players to watch. I've watched tapes and CDs of all the people on that list and they are people I look up to and they are heroes of mine. To make more appearances than them is really flattering because they have all played a massive part in the club's history and that is what I have tried to do.
LiverpoolFC.com: Do you think you can play more games for Liverpool than Jamie Carragher? He seems to think you can...
Gerrard: Maybe. I'm 32 years of age. I think some people think I'm a lot older than that because I have been around for such a long time. But I believe Jamie has got many more appearances to make. We'll have to wait and see. But beating his record is not that important, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that Jamie and myself have played our part in adding to this club's history. Everyone knows how big this club is and what the history means, so to play a small part in that makes us feel very good.
LiverpoolFC.com: How about Ian Callaghan's record of 857 games? Is that catchable?
Gerrard: I don't think that is going to happen if I'm honest. I think Cally deserves that record for himself. He's a great man as well as a great player. We see him around the club and it's nice that he's still playing his part and is still part of the furniture around here. To make that many appearances and to have had the success that Cally has, I think he deserves to hold the record and I don't think it will ever be beaten. But who knows?
LiverpoolFC.com: If a 16-year-old Steven Gerrard walked into the room now, what would you tell him?
Gerrard: I'd be happy if he did, it would take a lot of pressure off me! When you are coming to the latter stages of your career, you want to see young people who are good at playing football coming through. It's only going to be a matter of time before I'm back in the stands watching and supporting the team, and I would love nothing better than to see a new Jamie Carragher or a new Steven Gerrard breaking through, someone who I can watch for the next 10 or 15 years. I'd tell him to enjoy it. I'd tell him a football career is not just about ups, it's about ups and downs and you learn more from the downs than you do from the ups. Enjoy every minute of it. It's a great career and I wouldn't change it or swap it for anything in the world, I'm in a really privileged position.
LiverpoolFC.com: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Gerrard: Probably from my dad when I was a young boy going to the Vernon Sangster. I was part of the Liverpool school of excellence at the time and he always used to say to me that you get out of a football career what you put into it. You need to make sacrifices and work hard and give 100 percent every time you are out there performing. I've tried to stick to that bit of advice all the way through my career.
LiverpoolFC.com: Is it possible to describe the feeling you had when you first walked onto the Anfield pitch to make your debut for Liverpool?
Gerrard: It's difficult to describe the feeling. People use the phrase "the hairs on the back of my neck stood up," but mine did more than just stand up. It was one of the best days of my life. Plenty of players have experienced it. For the people that haven't, it's just an unbelievable feeling.
LiverpoolFC.com: Gerard Houllier said earlier this week that, to him, you personified what Liverpool Football Club was all about, how much do you owe to him?
Gerrard: I owe a huge debt to him. He gave me my opportunity to play for the first team; he gave me a lot of good advice both on and off the pitch and about how to behave, how to perform and how to be a professional. He also helped me to grow as a player, both tactically and technically, and he gave me the confidence and the belief to become the player I am today. For him to give me the captaincy at one of the biggest clubs in the world at 23 told me just how much confidence he had in me. From that point on it was all about me paying him back.
LiverpoolFC.com: How much has English football changed since you made your debut in 1998?
Gerrard: I think it has become more difficult. It's become more physical, quicker and the standard has got better. Each year as I have gone along in the Premier League, the league has improved and become harder. You have to make more sacrifices, you have to practice more, learn more and you have to adapt to the standard because the foreign players who come into our game each year become better and better. Being a British player you have to adapt and improve.
LiverpoolFC.com: Have you been forced to change as a player over the years?
Gerrard: I've had to change in order to be the player I want to be, to be as consistent as I can and to contribute to the team. I've had to improve each year and put more time in on the training ground. Also, a big difference nowadays is what you have to do away from the field, in the gym. You have to focus a lot on strength work and your diet has to be spot on. I think when I first broke into the team, if you were good enough, you used to be able to play but nowadays you have to be good enough, fit enough and strong enough. That's the difference.
LiverpoolFC.com: Do you feel you have changed as a person?
Gerrard: Definitely. Football has helped me to mature as a person. It's helped me grow and to realise and appreciate how lucky I am.
LiverpoolFC.com: Who has been the single biggest influence on you throughout your career?
Gerrard: I'd have to say my dad. I can't look any further than him because I first started kicking a ball when I was five or six years of age and he is still in the stands suppporting me today. He's been there with me from age five to 32. I speak to him before and after every game and he's with me when things are not good. He's there if I'm not playing well or something is going on in my personal life and he's there with me when I'm lifting trophies and playing at Wembley or winning UEFA Champions League finals in Istanbul. So he's been on the journey with me from start to finish.
LiverpoolFC.com: If we were to ask your dad what would be his proudest moment following your career, what would he say?
Gerrard: He's had a few proud moments. When I signed professional for Liverpool would be one. I knew that's what he always wanted when I was younger. The phone call I got from him after I made my debut was probably one of the best phone calls you could ever have off your dad. To feel the pride in his voice was very touching for me.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com