Steven Gerrard, who announced his departure from boyhood club Liverpool on Friday, is a player destined to be remembered as much for his extraordinary achievements as for his agonising near-misses.
The 34-year-old midfielder has captained Liverpool for 12 years, notably lifting the Champions League trophy after an unforgettable comeback against AC Milan in 2005, but coveted successes elsewhere have eluded him.
Although he has also won two FA Cups, three League Cups and the UEFA Cup, among other honours, he has never laid his hands on the Premier League trophy and met with nothing but heartbreak in his 14 years with England.
The last 12 months have reflected the latter years of his career in microcosm — glorious opportunity, followed by crushing disappointment.
Gerrard was poised to capture his first Premier League title last season, but his cruel slip in an April defeat against Chelsea tilted the momentum in the title race in Manchester City’s favour.
Weeks later, after one of the most accomplished seasons of his career, he went to Brazil hoping for a memorable international swansong at the World Cup, only for England to crash out after two matches.
“It’s probably been the worst three months of my life,” he admitted during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States.
Gerrard has endured more than his fair share of disappointment since inspiring Liverpool to glory in the 2006 FA Cup, with the 2012 League Cup the only major honour he has won since.
He also went close to winning the league title under Rafael Benitez in 2009, when Liverpool looked destined for the championship, only for Manchester United to steam past them in the home straight.
It was a similar story with England, who he represented on 114 occasions and captained at three major tournaments.
His first England goal was a sizzling 25-yard strike in a famous 5-1 win away to Germany in 2001, but his international career thereafter was a succession of false dawns and high-profile failures.
– Comic-book hero –
But taken as a whole, in his club career — which began when he walked through the doors of Liverpool’s academy at the age of eight — Gerrard has scaled almost all the heights.
From the header that sparked the comeback to end all comebacks against Milan in Istanbul to the sensational 35-yard thunderbolt that took the 2006 FA Cup final to extra time, he has swaggered through his Anfield career with the audacity of a comic-book hero.
He came third in the voting for the Ballon d’Or in 2005 and was voted the greatest player in Liverpool’s history by fans in a 2013 poll.
No less a judge than Zinedine Zidane observed in 2009: “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo, but yes, I think he might be.”
No longer the box-to-box game-changer of his pomp, Gerrard has successfully streamlined his game under current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, sitting in front of the back four and spraying passes around the pitch with unwavering precision.
He will leave Anfield as Liverpool’s third-highest appearance-maker, behind only Ian Callaghan and Jamie Carragher, and with a claim to the title of the club’s greatest-ever player that only Kenny Dalglish can contest.
“Because of what he has done for the club, I believe he is the best,” Carragher, Gerrard’s fellow Scouser and former team-mate, told the Daily Telegraph in 2012.
“Dalglish, (Graeme) Souness and Ian Rush all played together in a great team, but because football is a team game, it’s been harder for Stevie because he’s not always played in great teams.
“I definitely think it’s a case with Stevie that people will not fully realise how good he has been until he stops playing.
“None of the players who’ve played alongside him would dispute he’s the best the club has ever had, and I would hope none of the managers would, either.”