Should the recent retirement from England duty by former captain Steven Gerrard prove a wake-up call for the Liverpool faithful?
Jamie Carragher and Steve Gerrard have been at the heart of the Liverpool side for the best part of 20 years, and with the stalwart defender hanging his boots up in 2013, Gerrard continued doing what he does best last season, the perfect example of composure, determination and passion, after a couple of – by his standards – underwhelming campaigns.
He so very nearly orchestrated what would have been arguably the most unlikely of league title wins in 2013/14; an achievement that would have overshadowed even the most dramatic victory in Liverpool Football Club’s history, one rollercoaster night in Istanbul.
To put too much emphasis on his slip up against Chelsea, which allowed Demba Ba to score and effectively put the title back in Manchester City’s hands, would be to neglect what Gerrard has brought to Liverpool, England and football in this country.
Likewise a World Cup campaign in Brazil that saw him, along with the majority of Roy Hodgson’s England squad, offer little to cheer about.
Gerrard’s decision to quit the Three Lions will now bring the twilight years of his club career into question: How long will he continue playing? How often will he feature? And most importantly perhaps, who can carry on his legacy?
To assume that Jordan Henderson, for example, will step into the breach left by Gerrard’s inevitable retirement would be beyond the wildest Kopite’s dreams, for as talented a player the young midfielder is, and no doubt many others touted as the famous number 8’s replacement, you’ll struggle to find a man who brings as much to Liverpool’s team both on and off the pitch.
Born and bred on Merseyside, Gerrard encapsulates the ‘one club man’ (flirtations with Everton as a youngster aside).
Numerous examples of his desire to see Liverpool succeed can be cited — Istanbul, where his gladiatorial drive proved the difference; the tears following victory over Manchester City as last season reached its climax, followed by the now famous ‘we go again’ speech to his teammates; the unadulterated joy of scoring against arch-rivals Everton and Manchester United; THAT strike against Olympiakos. I could go on.
That drive came from the affection he has not only for the club and its history, but for the city. You’d struggle to find that same passion in someone who comes from elsewhere, be it another part of the UK or abroad.
His upbringing is what also helped him through a difficult opening spell in Liverpool’s first team, which he readily admits was an eye-opener: “I was out of position and out of my depth,” he remarked to the Guardian in 2008.
Were his Merseyside roots a contribution in the fans’ acceptance of his less than overwhelming start?
Perhaps, but not entirely, for Steven Gerrard is a footballing goliath the likes of which we will likely not see for some time yet.
Comparisons between him, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Manchester United’s Paul Scholes have been plentiful, with all four at their pomp during a time that saw their respective clubs competing for Premier league glory.
I’d prefer not to go into who is best of the four, but would say Gerrard offers the best compromise between what his peers offer, and as a result can be considered the better all round player.
As adept at defending as he is attacking, Gerrard combines Vieira’s tenacity in the challenge and deftness of foot with Lampard’s eye for goal and Scholes’ vision and range of passing.
He also has the unerring ability to bring the best out of lesser talented players, of which there have been a few in his time at Liverpool. The Champions League winning side of 2005 contained Djimi Traore, Milan Baros and Vladimir Smicer.
Unquestionably decent players, but better than the likes of Kaka, Hernan Crespo and Andriy Schevchenko?
On paper, no, but spurred on by the example of Gerrard — and partner in crime Carragher — Liverpool conspired to produce one of, if not, the greatest club performance in recent history to overturn a three-goal half-time deficit against a rampant AC Milan side.
Would Lampard, Vieira or Scholes have been able to conjure up such a result with that team? I’d have to say probably not.
Gerrard got what he deserved after being loyal to Liverpool and turning down the chance to play in much better teams, the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid, by winning that elusive fifth European Cup title and writing his name into Liverpool’s glorious history.
As to who could replace Gerrard, you’d have to say nobody — right now.
The hope for Liverpool will be that there is another promising youngster within their ranks, who can carry on the proud reputation the club has for producing world-class talent and continue to represent both fans and players alike.
It’s a conundrum that has troubled rivals Arsenal and Manchester United, with the shadow of Cesc Fabregas — who coincidentally took on the responsibility of replacing Vieira at Arsenal and now Lampard at Chelsea — only just being cast aside by Aaron Ramsey at the Emirates, whilst the ghost of Paul Scholes is still haunting the centre circle at Old Trafford.
Furthermore, Jack Wilshire’s stagnation at Arsenal — largely due to injury, it must be said — serves as a warning that being a fan and a player offers no direct route to success.
Upon announcing his international retirement, Gerrard said he would look again next summer at how long he will continue to play professional football.
Being deployed in a ‘quarterback’ role by Brendan Rodgers should help him continue to play a significant part alongside the new signings and youngsters progressing at Anfield, without being to the detriment of his fitness. Rodgers is an astute enough manager to adapt to change, as evidenced by his progressive approach in the two seasons he has been at the Anfield helm, but Gerrard’s retirement will arguably prove the toughest challenge of his tenure — far more so than Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona this summer.
Injuries permitting, you’d expect to see Gerrard in red for at least another two seasons yet, but when he does finally call it a day, it won’t just be Liverpool who will be left ruing his retirement.