Published on November 12th, 2013 | by The Kop End0
Top, top player: What next for Steven Gerrard?
“Hello, hello, here we go”
These words will echo in the minds of Liverpool fans as if it were just yesterday. Steven Gerrard rising above AC Milan’s defence – that included Maldini and Cafu – to head past Dida and inspire a dramatic, 6 minute comeback.. The rest, as they say, is history.
In his 6th season at Liverpool, and in only his 2nd as captain, Steven Gerrard had set Liverpool on their way to a historic 5th European Cup, leading his boyhood club to a victory that most young Liverpool fans, like myself, regard as the greatest night they have experienced as a Red.Not only did it give Liverpool a European Cup for keeps, and the title of ‘comeback kings’, it also gave Steven Gerrard, captain fantastic throughout the Champions League winning campaign, food for thought.
There had been much speculation as the season reached its curtain call that the newly crowned League Champions Chelsea, managed by the ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho, would successfully tempt Gerrard away from his boyhood club with promises of individual and team success. Gerrard had previously stated, in the off season of 2003/04, that he was not “happy with the progress Liverpool has made” and had considered “moving on”. Despite this, he stayed for Rafa Benitez’s first season with Liverpool, but doubts still remained in his mind.
This was not without reason, as Liverpool’s only trophy since the ‘treble’ of 2001 was the then Worthington Cup in 2002-03, and so it was no surprise that after an impressive season individually, the calls of Chelsea echoed loudly in Stevie’s mind as the 04/05 season drew to a dramatic close and Liverpool faced a daunting Champions League final.
It was a huge conflict of emotions for Liverpool fans; they were champions of Europe, but the worry of what their captain’s next move would be was at the back of many a fans’ mind. As the euphoria of being a European Champion sunk in for the players, they went about giving interview after interview on the Ataturk pitch, Gerrard in particular. The fans in the stadium wouldn’t know it, but those watching on television would; as, when Gerrard reached the cameras and microphones of Sky Sports television, he uttered the words that gave millions of Liverpool fans even more reason to celebrate; ”How could I leave after a night like this?”
And thus, that settled it. For the time being, anyway. Gerrard was very nearly tempted away merely weeks later, with Rick Parry reluctantly accepting defeat to Chelsea and their riches, saying “Now we have to move on. We have done our best, but he has made it clear he wants to go and I think it looks pretty final”. It was a huge surprise, a pleasant one mind, when Gerrard made a huge U-Turn just the morning after, and signed a new contract, pledging his immediate future to Liverpool Football Club.
Almost 9 years later, Gerrard is still here, leading Liverpool as captain for the 10th season. He is the only player, after Jamie Carragher’s retirement in May, who remains at the club from those who featured on that historic night in Istanbul.
Key players have been and gone; starting with Michael Owen through to Fernando Torres, but Stevie remains, despite many clubs in recent years trying to tempt him away. Only last summer was he singled out by a ‘big’ club in Europe for a move, speculated in the media to be Bayern Munich, where he could have ended his career with ease. Yet, he stayed loyal to Liverpool, and it is likely he will end his career here.
Recently, Alex Ferguson prompted discussion with his needless comments regarding Gerrard – among other things relating to Liverpool – saying he was one of the few who didn’t feel that Gerrard was a “top, top player”. Remarkable, considering he had tried to sign him for Manchester United.
Brendan Rodgers, on a roll recently in how he handles the media, responded indirectly with a smirk;
“Steven Gerrard is a top, top, top, top, top player”
And he is. Many feel that he is the greatest player to ever pull on a Liverpool shirt, and I’d agree, as he has carried great, good, average and mediocre sides, all while wearing the Liverbird with pride and putting in consistent shifts for the Three Lions.
However, at 33, the cliché term that he “isn’t getting any younger” sadly applies. It has been suggested that he is ‘past it’, but his display in our impressive 4-0 dispatching of Fulham, where he was involved in all four goals (gaining three assists and a ‘hockey assist’ for Henderson’s pass to Suarez) suggests otherwise.
The simple fact is that, at 33 and captain of both club and country, he no longer has the legs to be playing as often as he used to. Brendan Rodgers hit headlines when saying that Gerrard may have to retire from international football in order to prolong his Liverpool career – but he’s right. Rodgers has started to handle Gerrard excellently; he brought him off around the 65 minute mark against Fulham, albeit because of a slight hip injury, but later alluded to the idea that when he can rest Stevie, he will.
Gerrard came under criticism from many, myself included, for recent performances; particularly against Arsenal, where he and Lucas were so ineffective in midfield that Jordan Henderson ended up trying to do the jobs of 3 midfielders by himself.
This criticism, I feel, was not unjust, and therefore it came as no surprise to many that when the team formation, and thus the team shape, was changed to accommodate a back four and the return of Philippe Coutinho, Gerrard excelled and got forward from the midfield in ways he had not been able to in games when we played 3-5-2. I’m no advocate in changing a formation to suit just one player, but it appears that several of our best players excel in a formation similar to that of a ’4-4-2 diamond’, and I therefore feel that this formation would be beneficial both to our current players and the prolonging of Steven Gerrard in the Liverpool side.
So, what does this mean for captain fantastic? Well, we cannot avoid the facts. He is reaching the twilight of his career and Brendan Rodgers is right to rest him when he can. Gerrard is still a hugely capable and influential player, but one thing stands in our way of getting the best out of our ageing captain; England. Stevie makes no secret of how proud he feels to represent, and captain, his country, and we cannot begrudge him of this opportunity. However, a staggering statistic emerged not long ago that revealed that in a 13 week period, Stevie had featured in 17 games for club and country. This is a huge amount for any player, let alone a 33 year old approaching the final years of his career. Yet, what can be done? We, as selfish as a football fan is, can only hope that Stevie (as Brendan Rodgers alluded to) will retire from international football after featuring in his third World Cup, and can look back at his time with England with fond memories as he looks forward to leading Liverpool for (hopefully) a couple more years.
Whatever happens, though, we can rest assured knowing that Steven Gerrard will long be remembered as a ‘top, top, top, top, top player’, and a true captain fantastic.