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23 April 2024

Reds rely on G-Force


By John McAuley

For all the clubs in all the countries Abel Xavier has played professional football at, he still finds it difficult to determine his most talented team-mate.

"That's a tough one," says the former Liverpool, Everton, Roma and PSV defender. "If you're asking me to identify the world-class players I've had the pleasure to play with, I could name you many. I've had some unbelievable team-mates."

Those the 36-year-old has been fortunate to share a dressing room with include lethal luminaries Ruud van Nistelrooy and Francesco Totti, midfield maestros Luis Figo and Rui Costa, and durable defenders Frank de Boer and Jaap Stam.

It's easy to see why he struggles to bookmark his best.

However, when the category is trimmed to most gifted young player he's worked with in a career spanning almost two decades, there is little debate.

"That has to be Steven Gerrard at Liverpool."

Xavier joined Liverpool in 2001, defecting from Merseyside rivals Everton in one of the most controversial moves in Premier League history.

The Portuguese international had spent two years harbouring affections from the blue side of Stanley Park, but then switched allegiances to sign a three-and-a-half year deal with the Reds. Once there, it didn't take long for a local lad with precocious talents to make himself known.

"I knew straight away, from an early age, Gerrard was a leader," says Xavier, who is in Dubai weighing up his footballing options.

"He wanted to be the best on a daily basis and always showed that in training, no matter who against.

"He surprised me by his mature personality even for one so young.

"He was in a set-up where a lot of foreign players were coming into the club, but he was the one home player who knew he needed to show he was the best all the time.

"That is the quality you need to prove you're always better than everyone in the long-run.

"And Gerrard is among the best in the world now."

Liverpool's inspirational captain – sidelined for three weeks with a torn hamstring – has a penchant for pivotal last-minute strikes that have etched his name into the club's history books.

Xavier says those moments of brilliance come from Gerrard's strong mindset and has backed the talisman to contribute some more vital strikes as the club chase Manchester United in the title race.

"It's his mental drive and belief because he realises you can win the game in the first minute and lose it in the last," he says.

"For that you need the motivation from the beginning to the very end. Gerrard has that and winning a Premier League will prove it."