Before I begin in earnest, let me preface this piece – for my own protection – by saying Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool great. There’s no need for hierarchy, he’s up there with Dalglish, Barnes, Souness and Rush. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
On Saturday, Gerrard received a well-earned, orchestrated crowd mosaic, an emotional lap of honour and the loudest Kop chants of the season. I haven’t always connected with aspects of Steven’s personality, his style of captaincy and his form since the heady days of 2009, but I don’t mind admitting that I had a tear in my eye as he said goodbye to Anfield.
But there’s been some revisionism this weekend and some memory loss too. Some of the post-match reaction to Saturday’s humbling was the very antithesis of the attitude commonly associated with Liverpool’s support.
I’ve been sickened by wails of, “There will never be anyone like him again!” or, “He was the last of the greats!” As a proud Liverpudlian nothing irks me more than the ‘self pity City’ tag, but it’s hard to give the wallowing and defeatism in the wake of Gerrard’s exit any other name.
Whatever happened to the maxim that no man is bigger than the club? Is football in the modern era all about the star player over the team ethic? Infuriatingly, many Reds’ fans were happy to trot out the media line that that Gerrard has ‘dragged’ mediocre Liverpool teams along for all of his 17 Anfield years.
Not only is this disrespectful to some influential contributors to past glories (Jerzy Dudek or Luis Garcia, perhaps?) but it’s also an insult to some genuinely great Liverpool players: Michael Owen; Robbie Fowler; Sami Hyypia; Jamie Carragher; Xabi Alonso; Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez to name but a few.
Gerrard, of course, has been hugely significant, but to say that he’s propelled Liverpool to all their greatest victories on his own is just arrant nonsense.
I’m surprised that so many Liverpool supporters are so eager to adopt this view, a stance that denigrates the club and hints at a new-found defeatism. Happily deriding Liverpool for being a one-man team should be the preserve of Evertonians.
How we railed against the tired assertion that we were a one-man or two-man team during the Houllier and Benitez eras. Back then, Liverpool apparently couldn’t function without Gerrard and Carragher; and later Gerrard and Torres. In 2008, the Guardian printed a league table with all of Torres and Gerrard’s goals removed. We were still 8th – not bad for a team playing with nine men. How we laughed when Liverpool dipped in 2010 and the media changed its tune; claiming everything had been down to the departed Xabi Alonso.
All the more puzzling in the wake of Gerrard’s last home appearance is the assertion that he’s irreplaceable. If you’re talking about replacing the Gerrard of Istanbul, the Millennium Stadium and Real Madrid at home in 2009, then you may have a point.
But perhaps it’s convenient for Liverpool’s owners FSG and their recruitment team to promote the party line of this ‘one of a kind’ icon, given their failure to nail down identified targets in the past. It gives them an expedient excuse for not appropriately replacing a man whose legs went years ago.
Leaving today’s tear-stained, post-Lady Diana world behind for a minute; replacing the Gerrard of the last few seasons (post-hernia ops, and the sadness of last year’s title denouement) shouldn’t be difficult at all, save for the undoubted influence and guidance he offers to young players. In fact, Liverpool’s most glaring gaps lie elsewhere so the club should just wipe their tears and buy some goals. The next cab off the rank? I’m not sure who he is, but he costs £30m, is about 25 years old and wants £150k a week. FSG, it’s over to you, lads.
Similarly, if this new breed of cheerless Liverpool fan was so concerned about our lack of stars, perhaps they shouldn’t make it so easy for FSG to sell key players. Each time Suarez’s behaviour ‘crossed the line,’ a generation not conversant with the brutality of a Tommy Smith or Jimmy Case, wailed in the highest of pitches, “He’s got to Goohhhh!”
While lachrymose Reds bemoan Gerrard’s exit and ‘the last of the heroes,’ many of the same fans have spent the last eight weeks slaughtering Raheem Sterling over his contract impasse. Oh, the irony would be delicious, if not poisoned by such a mouthful of bile. The abuse inside Anfield towards this 20 year old, potentially great player has reached such appalling levels, that decent fans with any semblance of balanced rationale have considered walking away for good.
It has been a shameful episode with any clumsiness on the part of Sterling more than outweighed by a merciless Anfield mob. Perhaps they need reminding that ‘the last of the heros’ was an inch away from signing for Mourinho and Chelsea during consecutive summers in 2004 and 2005. Do we ask ourselves why the Huyton-born Gerrard even considered such treachery? Do we accept that Champions League football, career progression and medals to show to his kids would have been a legitimate response?
Sterling surely can be afforded the same doubts. But, at a sensitive time when Liverpool fans worry where the next superstar comes from, we’re doing our best to speed the departure of the one player (Coutinho apart) who can fill the void, if not in our hearts, then in the opposition penalty area.
Interestingly, although he’d never dare say it, if Brendan Rodgers survives the increasing clamour for his dismissal, he may well benefit Gerrard’s departure. For three years, Rodgers’ convenient alliance with the looming presence of his outgoing skipper, understandable given his flimsy managerial CV, has sometimes stymied the desire or will to pick a team purely on merit.
Justified criticism could actually be directed at Rodgers for picking an ailing, sluggish midfielder week in, week out for two and a half years while simultaneously trying to bring a high-tempo pressing style to the table.
Time waits for no man, and with less fanfare we’ve witnessed the sad exits of Hunt and St John, Dalglish, Barnes and Rush. With greater pain and anger we’ve seen exits forced by Keegan, McManaman, Owen and Torres. But there’s always someone to replace them.
Footballers, even those with 17 years in the same shirt, are merely passing through. It’s time for Liverpool fans to wipe their eyes and demand the next new hero. If he’s unlikely, in the short term, to be an artful dodger from the Dingle or a scrawny kid from Huyton’s Bluebell, then it’s incumbent on Liverpudlians to stop crying their hearts out and tell the owners it is time to get their hand in their pockets and replace the ‘irreplaceable.’
Is Mike wrong? Are Liverpool doomed? Is it barely worth watching now that Gerrard’s Anfield career has drawn to a close? Write to us: [email protected]
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