How do you define a successful football career?

Steven Gerrard, Liverpool midfielder

Captain. Talisman. A modern-day Roy of the Rovers.

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard is idolised on the Anfield terraces but there are many who believe his career will be emblazed with the headline ‘what could have been’. The English enforcer insists he has “no regrets” and he is “happy he stayed”, but it’s clear he still covets the Premier League trophy.

This raises an intriguing question; can players really claim to have had a successful career if they fail to secure the silverware their talent so richly deserves?

Gerrard freely admits that his head has been turned on a couple of occasions, perhaps no more so than in 2004 when he was on the brink of joining The Special One at Chelsea. Of course by remaining at Liverpool he would go on to lead his team to Champions League glory on that ‘memorable night in Istanbul’, a feat Chelsea only equalled last year, yet it’s almost certain that he would have secured that elusive domestic title had he moved to the Blues.

Ryan Giggs on the other hand collects league titles like they’re going out of fashion and has also acquired not one, but two Champions League winners medals. However, while his Manchester United team-mates have enjoyed countless international excursions, the 38-year-old has never been to a major tournament with Wales. He did captain Team GB during their inaugural appearance at the Olympics Games but that ended with the familiar feeling of defeat and bitter disappointment.

Does the United veteran therefore pale in comparison to Fernando Torres? A man who has triumphed in two European Championships and a World Cup, in which he scored the winning goal. Unlike Giggs and Gerrard, Torres effectively gambled his reputation with a high-profile move away from the club where he obtained a god-like status. He has attracted a swarm of criticism for struggling to adapt to life in London although he is perhaps perfectly placed this season to obtain his own elusive, top-flight domestic title.

Over the past year the ‘traitorous’ trio of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie have departed Arsenal in search of success, although surely it’s unfair to judge a career based purely on the medal tally. Former Tottenham and QPR favourite Clive Allen never picked up a single trophy during his prolific 17 year career and neither did Matthew Le Tissier. Le Tissier did however acquire the praise and adulation of the Southampton supporters alongside such modern greats as Barcelona’s Xavi (showcased below), which is perhaps a better measure of success.

“His talent was out of the norm. He could dribble past seven or eight players, but without speed, he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.” (Guardian)

In a recent article from the professional enigma that is The Secret Footballer, he declared that the modern footballer favours the size of his bank account over the size of his trophy cabinet. He attributes this belief to the growing pressures of English football that have accumulated to such an extent, players are beginning to resent the sport, which has converted their mindset into that of a ravenous businessman.

In the build-up to Liverpool’s triumph in the League Cup, Welsh winger Craig Bellamy offered a harrowing outlook on such a momentous day.

“Honestly if I win, I win, if I don’t, I don’t. I won’t lose one second of sleep over it. I’ve had a great career and enjoyed it but is it defined by trophies? No – and it never will be. I don’t even know where my Scottish Cup medal [won in 2005 with Celtic] is.”

A few years prior, Spur’s left-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto dared to infuriate supporters further when he said: “I don’t understand why, when I said I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he’s a mercenary. Every player is like that.” (Guardian)

It would be easy to taint all footballers with the same brush but it’s clear in the case of Adam Johnson that money and trophies aren’t the sole components of a footballer’s brain. The new Sunderland winger claimed that the majority of players at Manchester City, “don’t actually play for the champions – you’re a squad member, which is totally different.”

Johnson insists he doesn’t regret his move but finishes the interview with a welcoming phrase: “What drives me on now? To play – to be appreciated.” This is evidence then that there is hope for the beautiful game, which is often regarded as a sport built on greed and arrogance.

Perhaps David Beckham should be hailed as the most successful player of our generation, simply for being fortunate enough to acquire silverware while establishing a reputation as one of the sport’s most iconic figures. The achievements of ‘Goldenballs’ are not only impressive but inspirational as well, serving to highlight the growing desire for so many athletes to be as successful off the pitch, as they are on it.

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