Polls would suggest that the two greatest players in Liverpool’s history are the current manager and captain. But with King Kenny showing his qualities as the manager, has Gerrard’s impact and influence diminished?
It certainly has been a tough season for the number 8. Coming out of a hugely disappointing World Cup, in to a team under Roy Hodgson that never seemed to get going or show the promise and optimism the signing of Joe Cole created. But things have been different for the club under the leadership of Kenny. It seems the invisible but tangible weight around the players and the ground has been lifted, and the only way is forward. And yet amidst all this our ‘Captain Fantastic’ has failed to shine bright. Stevie seems to have struggled all season with niggling injuries and his stinted runs in the team have often been interrupted by ill-timed suspensions, but is he still worthy of his place?
As good a player as Gerrard is, he like Torres must never be considered bigger than the club, and I know Kenny will only ever do what is right for Liverpool FC. And that is why I know he will make the most of Gerrard for a few a little while yet. He is still world class in so many departments, and I know without any doubt that a poll in the dressing room would leave no question of his importance. Imagine for a second being in the shoes of Shelvey or Spearing, the importance of having Stevie around the club is huge. Even today Martin Kelly has publicly thanked both Jamie Carragher and Gerrard for their influence on him.
And let’s not forget the importance to the fans. He might not have many Olympiakos or Istanbul moments left in the tank, but he is still a talisman for the fans, and that is something Kenny can use wisely to keep the club united and moving forward. Stability had been a key term bounced around Anfield in recent weeks, and the awesome presence of Gerrard even on the training ground will do as much for stability as anything. Added to that I think it is fair to say a Liverpool team with Gerrard around is much more attractive to possible transfer targets than one without.
Worldwide he is seen as the main man at Liverpool, and although I would want to move away from this view slightly, his reputation is undeniable and a true asset to the club. He could and should be consider an ambassador for the club, but his effectiveness as an ambassador is greatly enhanced when he take to the field wearing the red shirt and the armband.
I was fortunate enough to be at Anfield for the crucial game against Napoli. They came on the back of a great run of form, and it is fair to say it was already clear Hodgson’s time as manager was not working out as hoped. The crowd were increasingly becoming frustrated and the young team Roy had picked seemed to be getting lost in the game. And then Gerrard began to warm up. The crowd lifted, the applause and the chants arose and Gerrard prepared himself to flip the game on its head. During the half-time interval he stayed on the pitch to prepare himself, and from the moment the game restarted everything changed.
Within the first 2 minutes of being on the pitch he had handed out a huge tackle, and upped the tempo tremendously. His impact was undeniable, the young players had a leader, and he went on to score a wonderful hat-trick, full of passion, desire and undoubted skill. Without a shadow of a doubt he changed the game. He was outstanding. One game is not enough (although there are other games I could highlight, including a brace against United and a Man of the Match or England) but to me it shows it is still there within him. Surely not everything has changed in less than 6 months?
He might not have had his best run of form recently, or frankly one of his better seasons, but it would be very unfair to say he has been ineffective. We have come to expect the best every week, and although he has not been at that level for a little while, he has had good games and he has had average games, which puts him in line with almost every other player in the squad. I agree with many that Gerrard’s greatest asset has been his engine, drive and determination – all pushing his talent to the limit. His dip in drive and his expression of frustration recently is alarming, and we cannot pretend it is not there. The Torres’ saga must have had an impact, although the relationship between those two seemed to have all but broken down longbefore the end of the January window and the departure of Fernando Torres.
It seems clear that Gerrard’s role is going to change, and I certainly do not think we should work around to accommodate him, but I did think we must find a way to harness his talent and allow it to still have a positive impact on the team. He is obviously not going to play 60 games a season anymore, and he will certainly no longer be able to get box-to-box, or track back every lost ball for the length of the pitch. But he is still creative, he is still dangerous and his natural awareness of the others around him hasn’t left him. I wonder what Liverpool can learn from other players and clubs, such as United with Giggs and Scholes, or even recently what England tried to do with Beckham. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. Those cases are completely different to Stevie, but it cannot be denied that those
players have had to change their styles and roles, but have continued to influence and impact their teams.
I, as much as anyone, expect great things from such a legend like Steven Gerrard, and I do worry his best has been and gone, but I believe it is too soon to be calling for his head and I think it is a significant and helpful bonus that Steven Gerrard has a free summer this year, and I expect that the prospect of a new season under the leadership of a Kenny will be just the thing to reignite our hero and captain. The performance of Suarez against United must have put a huge smile on Stevie’s face (with all other Liverpool fans) and seeing Carroll on the field of play likewise can’t have concerned him in anyway. His time will come soon to step back, and preparations need to be in place now. Stevie knows that and I am sure he will do everything in his power to leave Liverpool in the best possible position. He is still priceless to Liverpool!