The opportunity to look back at one of the finest footballers of his generation has arisen with the news that Steven Gerrard may depart from Liverpool come the end of the season. A figure respected by both fans and colleagues alike, Gerrard stands as a paragon of loyalty in a culture of journeyman players and a true icon of the sport.
The now-Liverpool legend began his career with the club aged just 8 years old, and having made his debut in November 1998 has been a mainstay of the first team for over 16 years, becoming captain in 2003. A promising talent in his youth and a role model in his later years, Gerrard has been central to Liverpool’s success. A consistent talent, the highlight of Gerrard’s career occurred on a day forever marked in the memory of any Liverpool fan, the 2005 Champions League Final. Facing the tournament favourites AC Milan, goals from Paolo Maldini and Hernán Crespo saw Milan go in at half time with a 3-0 lead. What transpired in the second half was perhaps one of the most remarkable turnarounds in football history. Powering home a towering header and winning the vital equalising penalty, Gerrard was central to Liverpool’s comeback as they won the game via a penalty shootout. In the wake of the game he was lauded for his role in the victory, both for his outstanding performance and ability to rouse the spirits of his teammates.
Always held in high regard, before and after his Champions League masterclass efforts were made to pry the Reds captain away from Anfield, however his loyalty and commitment to Liverpool kept him at the club. As well as the well-known interest of Chelsea, following the comments in Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography questioning Gerrard’s stature as “a top, top player” revelations were made that the Scot had in fact twice tried to lure him to Old Trafford. Fellow legend Zinedine Zidane also revealed that he had requested Real Madrid sign Gerrard in 2004, and that the Spanish champions twice attempted to bring the Liverpool skipper to the Bernebéu. Speaking about the Liverpool legend, Zidane continued to say that few “players turn down Real Madrid [and] I think tells you a lot about the loyalty of the man”. Playing within a culture of journeymen, when big-money moves for players of his calibre were commonplace, Gerrard’s commitment to his boyhood club is something that deserves to be celebrated.
His departure from Liverpool has provided the world’s football community the opportunity to demonstrate its sense of comradery and mutual respect, with praise coming from the likes of Paul Scholes, Alan Shearer and Zidane, who described Gerrard at his peak as “the best in the world”. This praise has extended to predictions about his future in the MLS, where he is expected both to find more career success – his enduring talent was evidenced by his brace in Monday’s FA Cup win over Wimbledon – as well as further raise the worldwide profile of the American league and aid the development of its young players.
For Liverpool, while he leaves a sizeable gap to fill, the opportunity is now there for other players to step up, building new midfield partnerships and, now unable to rely on the leadership of Gerrard, form a cohesive unit reliant on interplay and shared responsibilities. For vice-captain Jordan Henderson the opportunity has arisen to further develop his leadership within the team, now responsible for on-field organisation and marshalling what without Gerrard is one of the league’s youngest midfields. Gerrard, meanwhile, is able to move on to pastures new, playing in a reduced physically exerting league than the Premiership might prolong his career and in a team with significantly fewer demands on his shoulders.
With talk of a return to Liverpool, either in a coaching or ambassadorial role, his time away might allow him to return to Liverpool renewed and with even greater experience, able to again aid his boyhood club as it builds for the future.
What might the future hold for Gerrard, including potential moves back to Anfield both on and off the pitch?