It seems Steven Gerrard has had a change of heart when it comes to his answer to the eternal question of who the greatest footballer of all time is.
Now the manager of Al Ettifaq – who, famously, also signed another former Liverpool captain in Jordan Henderson this summer – Gerrard seemed to reveal his pick while explaining the reasons behind his move to Saudi Arabia.
In an interview released by Saudi Pro League channels, the 43-year-old claims that he was enticed to take up the challenge of managing in the newly-monied Middle Eastern league not by the promise of untold riches but by one Cristiano Ronaldo – or, as Gerrard likes to call him: 'the GOAT'.
The Liverpool legend said: "The arrival of 'the GOAT' as we call him, Cristiano, him arriving in January obviously [was] a huge signing. He still had a lot of football to offer.
"So, from afar, for six months, I was looking in at Cristiano Ronaldo's results, at the league, watching some games and watching some highlights. I think from that moment, the league around the world had become a very popular talking point for everyone. After Cristiano's arrival, even more big-name signings, talents and skill sets were joining the league.
"At the time it coincided with me being out of the game and looking for my next opportunity, so I was fascinated from afar looking in, and when my agent brought a couple of opportunities in the gulf area at the time, I was fascinated to explore them.
"The Ettifaq proposal and opportunity was the most exciting for me because I've signed up to a club where the board are very passionate. They understand where the club is at, they understand it's something that's going to need building, and it's going to take time.
"That's the reason why I was very interested to analyse this one, because in my job you need time. Especially when a club has finished seventh in the league and so many points behind the top four.
"That's not an easy fix; it's not something you fix in a week, a month, or six months. It's a project to build on the pitch, which is obviously the priority, but also a lot of things needed to change around it to give the first team the support it needs."
Gerrard's cringe-worthy comment caught the attention of many fans on social media, with some quick to point out that the former Rangers and Aston Villa manager had previously hailed Lionel Messi as the best to ever do it.
— - (@JoshLFC1909) November 19, 2023
Honestly, everything this man has done since leaving Liverpool is just like taking a sledgehammer to my childhood. https://t.co/I89Vd7Pmng
— Justin (@juza_23) November 19, 2023
You know how fans of The Smiths had to separate the art from the artist with regards to Morrissey? It’s been the case for a while but we need to separate Gerrard’s footballing career from Gerrard the man. https://t.co/k791kGOKyJ
— David (@FourNaanJeremy) November 19, 2023
When asked for his best footballer of all time by Gary Neville on The Overlap as recently as 2022, Gerrard replied: "Lionel Messi, for me.
"But I'm someone who would never have a derogatory word to say about Ronaldo, because he is phenomenal. They are the two in my era that were just…the numbers - when you're a footballer and you've done it yourself - I'm not sure who's going to ever do that again."
On the pitch, results have been mixed for Gerrard's Al Ettifaq – who currently sit in seventh after 13 games.
Despite Gerrard's claim that Ronaldo's arrival has brought added interest to the Pro League, attendance figures in Saudi Arabia this season have become the source of frequent ridicule despite the big spending.
Al Ettifaq's most recent fixture, a 0-0 draw with Al Fayha on 11 November was played out in front of a crowd of just 610 people at the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium.