The 22-month spell where Liverpool’s trio of home-grown heroes set legacy in motion

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Within the space of 22 months, three Liverpool stars of the future would debut for the club and set in motion careers which would leave lasting legacies.

Liverpool has a famed history and tradition of developing and nurturing their own talent, ensuring a Scouse heartbeat is ever-present.

From Laurie Hughes, Ian Callaghan, Ronnie Moran, Phil Thompson, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, to name just a few.

And the emergence of Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard ushered in a new era of local talent to rise from within.

They would all make their debut for the first team within a 22-month period as teenagers, with Carragher (19-years-old) leading the way before Owen (17) and Gerrard (18) followed.

Liverpool, England - Saturday, October 20, 2007: Liverpool's Jamie Carragher celebrates beating Everton 2-1 during the 206th Merseyside Derby match at Goodison Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Carragher and Owen had been members of the successful FA Youth Cup side the year before, and Roy Evans would the manager to hand the duo their first taste of senior action, both from the substitutes bench.

The former had signed his first professional contract three months prior following a successful apprenticeship, and his Liverpool bow would come against Middlesbrough on January 8, 1997, in the League Cup.

A league start against Aston Villa would soon follow, where he would net his first goal having been deployed in midfield, the first of 508 Premier League appearances during his 17-year career.

Jamie Redknapp played alongside Carragher on that day and conceded that he “didn’t think he would become one of the world’s best defenders,” as while Owen and Gerrard had star quality from the off, he “had to work really hard at his game.”

Carragher’s versatility meant he would feature at right-back, left-back, centre-back and in midfield, and while his early career was not without lows – two own goals against Manchester United in 1999 – he would soon become an integral and irreplaceable component of Liverpool’s back-line.

The Bootle boy may have grown up as an Everton fan, but he would end his illustrious career as a Liverpool legend, with the Kop dreaming of a team of Carraghers.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 7, 1997: Liverpool's Michael Owen celebrates scoring from the penalty spot Manchester United with team-mate Steven Gerrard during the FA Youth Cup match at Anfield. United won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Owen, meanwhile, had superstardom waiting on his doorstep at a tender age, with his frightening pace and lethal finishing beyond his years ensuring he exploded onto the scene.

“He is ready for whatever you throw at him; nothing fazes Michael Owen. He’s ready,” was Steve Heighway’s assessment.

On May 6, 1997, he made his debut in the penultimate game of the season against Wimbledon and needed just 16 minutes to find the back of the net, the first of 158 goals for the club during his seven years at Anfield.

It made him Liverpool’s youngest-ever goalscorer at 17 years and 143 days, a record which stood until November 2016, when Ben Woodburn netted against Leeds at 17 years and 42 days.

He would make himself irreplaceable to the team the following season after Robbie Fowler succumbed to injury, with Evans forced to forget plans of a carefully laid out transition into the first team, as Owen swiftly became the Reds’ number one striker.

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, March 2, 2003: Liverpool's goalscorers Michael Owen (l) and Steven Gerrard celebrate beating Manchester United 2-0 during the Football League Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For Gerrard, it would be Gerard Houllier who would hand him the keys to the castle he was yet to know he would rule in the future, with his debut arriving on November 29, 1998, in a 2-0 win over Blackburn in the league.

Both Carragher and Owen had featured from the off that day and while only introduced with moments left, it would be the first of 710 appearances.

An outing at right-back in the Merseyside derby in just his ninth game would provide a glimpse into the future, with two goal-line clearances providing a taste of the heroics he would later serve in spades.

“A wonderful talent, a young man with the steel of a Stiles and the style of a Souness,” was how the Liverpool Echo’s Ric George described him.

Together the trio won the historic treble of the League, FA and UEFA Cup in the 2000/01 season, which preceded the UEFA Super Cup and a second League Cup in 2002/03.

Owen would receive the Ballon d’Or in 2001, among various other individual awards, before leaving for Real Madrid in the summer of 2004, after 297 games and 158 goals.

It was a move which would set in motion a future switch to Man United – ensuring his legacy at Anfield is one which is, for many, tainted.

Carragher and Gerrard, however, would remain and become the pillars of Liverpool in the decade which followed.

The latter would be named captain on October 15, 2003, and the pair would prove integral to the road to Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup final and the 2012 League Cup triumph.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (l) and Jamie Carragher celebrate with the trophy

You’d struggle to find two players who played with more heart and courage than Carragher and Gerrard, they were the epitome of everything it meant to play for Liverpool Football Club.

Liverpool’s No. 23 would hang up his boots at the end of the 2012/13 season and the Reds’ No. 8 would follow in May 2015. They left nothing to chance and gave everything to their football club.

Carragher, Owen and Gerrard played a combined 1744 games for Liverpool, scoring 349 goals along the way as they added nine pieces of silverware to the trophy cabinet.

Not bad for three teenagers who dreamt of making it at the top.

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