Sunday’s stalemate at Swansea saw another indifferent performance from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
It’s fair to say that Gerrard has struggled so far this season under new boss Brendan Rodgers. Whether this is down to struggling to adapt to Rodgers “system”, struggling to cope with changing his game as he enters the twilight years of his career, or due to the exertion of his impressive performances for England at Euro 2012, or a combination of factors.
What is clear, is that once a player reaches 32 they can no longer be expected to perform to the same level or at the same regularity as they did before they hit their thirties – especially a player with a track record of niggling injuries and whom has carried a team for a decade, being overly relied upon.
If Gerrard is now to continue to perform at a high level for his club, he must quit his country.
Name a player who has played on, and to a high standard, into their mid-thirties, who plays regularly for their country at the same time.
Now name a player who has quit international football early, in order to prolong their club career.
Brad Friedel, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are probably the most high profile names you’ll come up with on your second list.
Scholes quit England in 2004, aged 29, and later said in his autobiography “It was like a huge burden being lifted from my shoulders. In future I could look forward to summertime without that sense of foreboding which had preyed on me for so long. I had made the right decision for my family and myself and since then I have never felt otherwise.”
Ryan Giggs made just 66 appearances for Wales before retiring in 2007. He and Scholes now remain key parts of United’s squad at the age of 38. This won’t be possible for Gerrard if he continues his current schedule.
Ferguson has also encouraged Rio Ferdinand to completely retire from playing for England in order to prolong his career.
Spurs keeper Brad Friedel, still a regular at 41, explained how retiring early from playing for USA has aided him playing into his forties – combined with some yoga!
“I’ve been doing it [yoga] since I was 31 or 32. It coincided with me retiring from international football. I was starting to feel the strain. I only played one more game for the US after the 2002 World Cup. And I got into yoga at that point. It’s something I felt I needed to do to prolong my career and I think it’s worked for me.”
Even Ben Foster recently retired from international football, explaining “Performing at the highest level game in, game out… really takes it out of your body.”
Gerrard meanwhile has admitted he pondered quitting after the Euros, but instead wants to lead England into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I’ve been honest that it has crossed my mind on a couple of occasions, but being the captain and the buzz I get for England outweighs the thoughts of knocking it on the head.
“I wanted to carry on for a couple more years and see if things change and a bit of luck comes our way.”
So it looks like there is no possibility of Gerrard having a change of heart and retiring from England.
Instead then, Brendan Rodgers will face some tough decisions surrounding his captain. He clearly cannot play every single game, which he is being asked to due to our lack of squad depth. Even when being ‘rested’ for Europa League games he’s been called upon for a large cameo more often than not.
Lucas’ return to fitness could provide an option for Gerrard to be rested, or even moved into a more attacking role in the front 3, with Lucas, Allen and Shelvey or Suso in the midfield three.
The most sensible and productive decision would be to quit England and heighten the chances of allowing for more years being a regular part of the Liverpool team. Without such a decision, it’s difficult to see how Gerrard can perform to the required level on a regular basis.
One of Rafa’s boldest and biggest decisions early on was famously subbing Gerrard for a young Lucas in a Merseyside derby. Similarly, one of Rodgers’ biggest will be dropping Gerrard.