Steven Gerrard, ‘heart of the side’, ‘Liverpool Football Clubs talisman’ and ‘captain marvel’. Or is he? Past glories and his historic achievements aside, can anyone really tell me when our captain last performed at a level anywhere close to his full ability?
Whisper it quietly, Steven Gerrard is not performing and has not truly performed for LFC for a while.
Blasphemous words no doubt and after that intro I can already feel the anger directed my way from the Stevie G Fan Club and anyone else who chooses to view the captain solely through rose-tinted spectacles. But, pause for a moment if you will, take a deep breath, count to 10 and take a small step back before looking at the Steven Gerrard of today compared to the Steven Gerrard of Liverpools ’08-’09 season. Now, maybe, just maybe things will start to get clearer and a bit of realism might kick in.
During the ’08-‘09 season, our captain actually did deliver. On what was pretty much a game by game basis, Gerrard performed at and around his peak level, scoring 24 goals across all competitions and providing 17 assists in the process. His goals and assists aside, this was a season that Gerrard led by example, a season where he would run, tackle, block and basically give every ounce of effort for the team time and again. A Consistent series of performances that resulted in him rightly receiving the seasons Football Writers Footballer of the Year. Performances that served to drag up those of team-mates and help build a team greater possibly than the sum of it’s parts.
There really is no doubt that at that moment in time and that particular point in his career, Steven Gerrard represented everything good about Liverpool Football Club. And maybe more importantly at that time he could rightly be considered as integral to the clubs on field fortunes. Back then to have imagined a Liverpool team without the captain would have been very worrying to say the least. The trouble is though, that this moment in time and this place in his career is now over some 18-months ago. And although statistics can be used to prove anything, it’s maybe interesting to note that goals scored last season amounted to a mere 12. Todays Steven Gerrard, that is the Steven Gerrard witnessed throughout the whole of last season and this, is a mere shadow by comparison.
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At his best, Gerrards greatest asset was his dynamism determination and ultimately his visible desire, a desire that has been noticeably lacking. Age plays it’s part on the abilities and impact of every player but given Gerrards lack of tactical discipline (most notably highlighted by his positional failings and lack of awareness in the build up to Man Citys opening goal) and the fact that age appears to have blunted his biggest asset would suggest that his days of being ‘Mr Liverpool’ are behind him.
It’s not always about the quality of performance, Gerrards style and attitude is what endeared him to his public and something that helped set him aside a great captain. His motivational ability wasn’t questioned; he merely led by example. If a pass was misplaced then you knew you would see him working back a second later to try and recover even if that meant a 60-yard chase. Unfortunately the example he sets now is terrible. Watch him now and at best you might catch him tracking back for 6-yards or so before letting someone else pick up.
It’s hard to pinpoint why his form has so dramatically deteriorated and why his performances have been so visibly lacking in effort. Is it a case that he’s begun to believe his own hype and as a by-product doesn’t give the extra effort that he once instinctively did or instead, is it a case of age catching up with him and a simple case of his body being unable to perform to the previous levels?
There will be those who will suggest that maybe it’s not Gerrard and instead the changes witnessed to the playing personnel at Anfield. After all, the loss of Xabi Alonso is regularly cited as a critical factor in Liverpools poor overall performances last year, but surely the absence of any other player should never cited as a viable excuse for the captain not at least appearing to put a full shift in?
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Naturally a Liverpool side playing without the threat and understanding of Gerrard and Torres for much of the season would naturally underperform, but again, it’s not all about performance. Having a fit Torres alongside him or not, there is no reason why his efforts should have been anything other than 100%
It’s maybe important to remember that the pinnacle of consistency achieved in ’08-’09 was largely influenced by the understanding built up between Gerrard and a certain Spaniard and as I’m sure some will suggest that the continued absence of Torres from the side for large portions of last season will have had an adverse effect on our captains performances. This is no doubt true, but I believe only true in so much as his goals and assists count.
This brings us to this season, and whilst we can all appreciate how low players might have felt at times, especially given the tactical choices and changes to the side introduced by Roy Hodgson, however, I find it hard to believe that any of Roys numerous failings can be used to defend a lack of spirit on the pitch by any player let alone the clubs captain.
It was very noticeable that the camaraderie visible between Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres this season had diminished. Although completely understandable if you consider that he was already aware of the Spaniards declarations of his intent to leave (be it at the end of the season or not as it turned out), although again it’s not enough to merit as an excuse for the captains’ efforts or lack of.
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Whilst off-field turmoil involving everyone from directors, the fans, manager and hangers on can be cited in his defence, it’s worthwhile noting that so called lesser players in the squad have managed to knuckle down and though unable to offer the same quality that Gerrard possessed, have offered a work rate and effort that is unseen from the captain most weeks.
It seem that whether we like it or not Steven Gerrard has lost his way at Liverpool, gone are the days where he would drag the team along and where once he might have strained and fought for the side, over the past 18-months our captain has more often than not demonstrated an increasing capacity to watch play pass him by and increasingly to moan and sulk.
At his peak Gerrard was instrumental in everything good about LFC and his heroics in the clubs most recent glories, most noticeably in Istanbul and Cardiff will ensure that he should be remembered as a Liverpool great. However, in my opinion his dwindling drive and increasingly poor performances should mean his status as key player and captain should be seriously questioned and maybe his role at Liverpool revised, more realistically to that of a squad player or that of an impact substitute leaving a place in the starting XI for players who are younger, fresher and most notably demonstrably hungrier.
Maybe it could take something as simple as a shift away from his favoured centre position, it could be that a deployment to the right hand side of Liverpools midfield could just allow him the time and space to required to once again perform.
Likewise a shift to the right of a front 3 including the quality striking additions of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll could prove equally successful in terms of reinvigorating the captains seemingly diminishing contribution to the side.
Either way, be it from wide right in a midfield 4 or further forward as part of an attacking 3, being out of the cut and thrust of the centre, Gerrard may just find the opportunity to perform and in turn provide performances worthy of his inclusion in the side. Who knows?
There’s no doubt in terms of crossing ability, he’s more than capable of being the equal of Kuyt, however it remains to be seen if the captain would be able to deliver as well in terms of work rate, application and commitment?
Certainly by the end of this season we might have a clearer picture of Gerrards future or lack of one at LFC.
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I’m sure that many supporters will disagree and choose to blindly support and defend Steven Gerrard but there’s one important thing they might care to remember, and a point that they really shouldn’t forget, it’s Liverpool Football Club not Gerrard Football Club. No player, no matter how great their past achievements should be afforded blind loyalty and maybe, just maybe it’s time to take of those glasses?
What do you think? Do you agree with Will? Or is it a case of ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’? Has Gerrard found a new role at Liverpool FC? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…