It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Steven Gerrard’s announcement – just days before the pivotal FA Cup tie versus AFC Wimbledon – that he would be leaving the Anfield club at the end of the season and almost certainly following in fellow England legend David Beckham’s footsteps by joining LA Galaxy, came as a shock to many. The Liverpool legend is not only a hero of the club, but one of the last few remaining one-club players whose loyalty and love for their chosen team seems to transcend those who play around them.
If you were to ask 100 Manchester United fan which player in the history of the Premier League which player they secretly admire but would never admit to, the likelihood would be that Steven Gerrard would be a name at the top of the list. It is a testament to the man that he is held in such high esteem by those who follow the game. With over 800 appearances for Liverpool, and over 100 league goals, he is a player that should, quite rightly, be spoken about in the same breath as the Vieras, the Scholes, even the Messis of world football. Of the midfielder, the French legend Zinedine Zidane once said “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of (Lionel) Messi and Ronaldo but yes, I think he just might be”.
A career that has spanned nearly 10 years at the top of English football, winning countless trophies including (well who can forget it) the 2005 Champions League, Gerrard’s career has had the sustained power others only dream of. It is true to say that his form in the past season has been poor at worst, patchy at best, but last season under Brendan Rodgers, alongside a fit Daniel Sturridge, a marauding Luis Suarez and the bright star that is Raheem Sterling, Gerrard had one of his best seasons in his time at Liverpool, even if the club did, once again, fall just short of that elusive title.
This makes the decision from Liverpool to firstly not offer Gerrard a contract at all, and let him state that fact to the media, and then offer him what was evidently not a contract up to scratch, regardless of whether the problem was the pay or the playing time that Rodgers was suggesting, seem exceptionally strange. When you consider the clubs Gerrard turned down during his prime, no less than the biggest club in the world Real Madrid, for Liverpool not to offer a satisfactory contract boggles the mind.
As the FA Cup tie with tough, albeit League Two opposition, AFC Wimbledon showed, Gerrard remains an intensely important part of the football club he is about to leave. He not only scored the two goals that secured the victory, but in an unusually advanced position (this season anyway), he ran the game for Liverpool, playing in Coutinho, Markovic and Manquillo countless times with effortless accuracy. On top of this, in a season where Liverpool have not only struggled with their defence but also their profligacy up front, Gerrard is the club’s top scorer going into the second half of the season.
These statistics, alongside the obvious and intensely important leadership skills he brings to the pitch make Gerrard the epitome of an unreplaceable player. Jordan Henderson, the 24 year old midfielder bought from Sunderland for a reported fee of £20million in 2011 is being lined up by Rodgers and the head-honchos of the club as the next Liverpool captain, but this is not a decision without risk. Henderson, yet to truly prove himself to many outside of Anfield, does not have the presence of Gerrard, nor the experience or, arguably, the talent.
Is Henderson, after the loss of Suarez last season and Gerrard at the end of this, ready to offer Liverpool the sort of hope that was on show in the 2005 Champions League final, when all seems lost? It seems unlikely, and Liverpool will be a much poorer club come June.