Liverpool FC have a proud and prodigious European history, but all their most recent red letter nights have Steven Gerrard's name stamped across them.
Think of the extraordinary rollercoaster of Liverpool's 5-4 extra-time victory against Deportivo Alavés in the 2001 UEFA Cup final; his stunning 86th-minute winner against Olympiacos FC in December 2004 which kept his side in the UEFA Champions League and on course for an epic final triumph against AC Milan in Istanbul. In each case, Gerrard's power, will to win and inspirational talent were fundamental.
So when the club captain warns that Liverpool have not only Round of 32 opponents FC Unirea Urziceni in their sights but intend to reach the UEFA Europa League final in Hamburg on 12 May, then ignore him at your peril. "It's very dangerous to bet against Liverpool, especially when our backs are to the wall," Gerrard told UEFA.com.
"This season has been inconsistent and hasn't gone to plan. However, for me as captain and for the team, we've got one more trophy to lift. So we'll be giving everything to go all the way. Hamburg is a special place, it has a nice stadium and anyone who underestimates the Europa League is not for me because I've lifted the UEFA Cup before. It's a special trophy, and  was a superb final. Hopefully we can experience the same feeling this season."
Neither fame, success nor wealth have taken the 29-year-old far away, in spirit or geography, from the people with whom he grew up. Gerrard has often spoken about the sacrifices he and his friends would make to buy a ticket and take their place on the Kop. So while the flame of personal ambition burns red-hot for Gerrard, so do the feelings of indebtedness to the Anfield fans who were hurt by Liverpool's below-par performances in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Conceding late goals in the defeat and draw against Olympique Lyonnais – two ties during which Gerard only managed 25 of the 180 minutes due to injury - plus away-and-home losses to ACF Fiorentina sealed the Group E fate of Rafael Benítez's side. "We went out of the Champions League because of small details but we have to take responsibility for that," continued Gerrard. "To pay the supporters back we must go on a long run in the Europa League. Our supporters want us to march all the way to Hamburg, so for me, being the leader of the team, that's the challenge. We need to put smiles back on people's faces."
Opponents Unirea have lost the inspirational presence of Dan Petrescu, the coach who guided the modest club to a first Romanian title in 2008/9 but is now managing FC Kuban Krasnodar in Russia's second tier. Yet Gerrard does not want either Petrescu's departure or Unirea's status as European debutants this season to spawn any complacency.
"I've always found in Europe that Liverpool have more problems against less well-known teams because of the surprise factor," said the England midfield player. "To play Liverpool is a big game for Unirea, and they'll be looking for a big upset and will be very dangerous. But Rafa [Benítez] will make sure that the team is prepared.
"He does his homework. We'll start by watching tapes of the opposition, and player profiles – he'll go round the players individually. He doesn't leave any stone unturned, and by the time that game comes around and we're ready for kick-off, we'll know their team inside out." Perhaps, 40 years after the Beatles made their name in the city, Hamburg is calling out to Liverpool once again.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.