In just a few games time, we will say goodbye to one the greatest players ever to have graced the Premier League. Bar a Premier League title, he won all other major honours on his journey with his beloved club, winning the love and respect of football fans all over the world. Not just because he won those trophies but the manner in which they were won. His excellent leadership, determination and, on occasion, sheer audacity meant that he was instrumental in turning seemingly hopeless scorelines into unforgettable match winning performances. Add to his list of distinguishing characteristics, an unwavering loyalty to his club culminating in seventeen years of service, despite offers of great financial reward and guaranteed silverware elsewhere. A one club man. A rarity in football. Steven Gerrard.
“Cut my veins open and I bleed Liverpool red.”
A SUCCESSFUL TALENT
Over the years, he has shared the highs and lows of his career with the world. From his debut on a cold November night in 1998, the treble winning season in 2000/01, to a memorable Champions League campaign in 2004/05, classic FA Cup finals and two agonisingly close title run ins. Not forgetting the three League Cups, two UEFA Cups and a UEFA Supercup he has also won. Throw in numerous personal awards and it’s clear Steven Gerrard has been through it all during his Liverpool career. His playing style is that of a traditional English footballer. Although he doesn’t possess the flashy skills of his European counterparts, he more than makes up for it with grit, determination and hard work. No one can pick out a fifty yard pass better and when the going gets tough, he’s the kind of player that can most likely be counted on to rally the troops and get results. Seasons gone by have seen him singlehandedly win matches but also pair up with his teammates to create dream partnerships. Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez just to name a few of the beneficiaries of his deft one touch and pinpoint accurate passing.
Having said all of this, Liverpool’s captain has come under scathing criticism this season. After having played arguably the best campaign of his career last season, this time around has been substandard to say the least. The whole team had set unrealistically high standards after the heady heights of last season, including Steven Gerrard. Everything from formation to players to desire clicked into place then, and Brendan Rodgers’ decision to play his captain in the deep lying midfield role was hailed as tactical brilliance. He thrived in that position and was given free licence to dictate play as much as the opposition allowed him to. The movement of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling in front of him played into his hands beautifully. The whole team, led by their unique talisman, had whet the appetite for things to come. But things quickly fell apart for Liverpool and Steven Gerrard.
With his contract running out at the end of the current season, he was left in somewhat of a limbo with the club delaying a new contract offer. After a difficult start to the 2014/15 season, which saw Liverpool in and out of the Champions League before they could blink, Gerrard found himself being left on the sidelines more often than he would’ve liked. For me, the turning point came when he started the CL game v Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on the bench. After all, these are the matches he gave up his England career for. Watching that game from the dugout would have undoubtedly left him deeply hurt and contemplating his role in the team. So much so, that in the new year he stunned the footballing fraternity by announcing that he would be leaving the club to play for LA Galaxy. No one ever thought that he’d end his career anywhere other than Liverpool. It was taken for granted that he’d play here until the end. Although he was much maligned for recent performances, he left most fans devastated at the thought of the club being devoid of his many qualities, on and off the pitch.
THE MISSING LINK?
There’s no denying that Steven Gerrard brings an incomparable set of characteristics to Liverpool Football Club. Whether or not things are going right or wrong in his game, he has always shown great leadership, passion and commitment that has resonated throughout the team. Youngsters in the team look up to him as a mentor and father figure who’s familiar with everything Liverpool because his lifetime has been spent dedicated to the city and the club. He’s the man they all look up to, admire, respect and aspire to be because they have seen him accomplish almost everything. He’s a shoulder to cry on; a voice of reason and when advice is needed, who better to turn to than Mr Liverpool himself. His influence is so much that he was instrumental in convincing Luis Suarez into staying another year, when the Uruguayan star looked certain to leave. A move that almost paid off with the one trophy that eluded him in his career. Who will do these things now? What goes on behind the scenes at Melwood is never made public, but it’s seems surprising that the club didn’t do more to keep Gerrard at the club. If not as a player, then in some other capacity. His presence in the dressing room alone would have been invaluable. As it is, there doesn’t seem to be a ready made successor to his throne and, for me at least, that’s a rather worrying thought.
I’m sure I speak for all Liverpool fans when I say that seeing him don the red shirt for the last time will be a heartbreaking moment. The fact that we’ve all known this moment was coming for four months now, makes it no more easier to deal with. Far from being a dream end to life at Liverpool, the last few months have been a tough time for the Reds’ captain with game time being limited due to injury and team selection. The fact that his own personal performances have been well below par further compounded his misery. However, regardless of whether or not anyone may think he’s surplus to the teams requirements at the moment, no one can deny that the club will be losing an irreplaceable wealth of experience. An experience that will be much amiss in a team full of relative youngsters.
STILL TIME FOR STEVIE?
With a mere three games remaining for Steven Gerrard, there is still time for him to leave on a high. There may be no dream Wembley final on his birthday and that coveted fourth Champions League spot may be a step too far, but as he showed against QPR, there may be one or two new, happy memories to add to the collection amassed over the last seventeen years. A few more smiles, a cheeky free-kick here or there and one or two more kisses for the badge he has so proudly worn. It may not be the high he wanted to go out on, but what matters is that he has several opportunities left to show the fans what they will miss before he boards that plane to Hollywood. And hopefully one day, he will return to the club where he made his name to write many more new chapters to his already amazing story.