In terms of longest-serving players who embody their clubs, Lucas Leiva is a prime candidate. The Brazilian joined the Reds in July 2007, and since Steven Gerrard’s departure last summer, Liverpool’s fourth emergency service is also their most loyal servant. But he has nothing to show for it. While the Reds have won one trophy during Lucas’ time at Anfield – the 2012 League Cup – the 29-year-old suffered a season-ending injury in the quarter-finals of the tournament. Whether he is a centre-half, a defensive midfielder or an inverted, false No 10 winger, redemption will be high on Lucas’ list this weekend.
Steven Gerrard captained Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005, an FA Cup title in 2006, a League Cup in 2012 and a Community Shield in 2006, with a list of individual honours to match. Jordan Henderson has skippered the Reds to a 0-0 draw with FC Sion and a 3-0 defeat at Watford. Signed from Sunderland in summer 2011, the midfielder played every minute of Liverpool’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Cardiff in the 2012 League Cup final, but the 25-year-old would relish winning a trophy in his first season as on-pitch leader.
The man for the big occasion. Toure was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in Manchester City’s 2011/12 title win, and scored 20 goals from midfield in another successful league campaign two seasons later. He scored in the semi-final and final of the 2011 FA Cup, inspiring the club to their first major trophy in 35 years, before adding another goal in the subsequent Community Shield victory. He then scored a sublime equaliser in an eventual League Cup final win in 2014. In this, perhaps his last season at Manchester City, Toure could provide an encore on the Wembley stage.
“I had a lot of conversations with the hierarchy at City and they never said a bad word about me. It was just their opinions on where I fitted in. They saw me as a big part of the club. However, when it came to getting to finals, and things like that, the default was for me not to play.” – James Milner, July 14, 2015.
The 4-1 victory over his former employers delivered a taste of revenge for Milner back in October, but helping inflict on them a Wembley defeat in order to inspire his new club to their first trophy in four years? Talk about incentive.
The scouted talent. The prodigious youth. The promise. The breakthrough. The first-teamer. The goals. The assists. The international recognition. The memories.
The contract rejections. The media posturings. The agent. The unsanctioned interview. The interest from afar. The rejected bids. The death threats. The absence from training. The most expensive Englishman ever. Snake with a brain?
Aged just 21, Raheem Sterling has enjoyed and endured a football career with more chapters and verses than many who have since retired from the game. And while the winger boasts individual awards, he remains without team honours. A trophy winner’s medal eludes him, but he will relish the opportunity to rectify that. In Sunday’s Wembley date with his former club, Sterling will have more to prove than anyone.