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Steven Gerrard’s Anfield return: Welcome home, but no sentiment here

Steven Gerrard mulled a few days ago that he wasn’t feeling any rush of sentimentality ahead of his arrival at Anfield on Saturday.

It was a remark that was made to sound more sensationalist than it was, as in the very same press conference he also stated that it was his responsibility to deal with the emotions surrounding the game.

Make no mistake about it, Gerrard will come to Anfield within an air of complete and utter professionalism, but the surroundings and the occasion will unbalance him. This is a place that was his domain for over a decade and a half as a player, many of them as captain.

Of course, all eyes turned to the fixture list when news broke of Gerrard’s imminent appointment at Villa Park. December 11 loomed large enough for it to take Sky and BT Sport by surprise, leaving them kicking themselves that neither had picked it out for live coverage, December’s choices already having been made.

3pm on Saturday will make for the hottest ticket in town.

Long-anointed as a Liverpool manager-elect, Gerrard has been at pains to insist that his move from Rangers to Aston Villa is not something he views as a steppingstone to the Anfield hotseat. In turn, we have all turned into analysts, or even voyeurs of his managerial career.

 

Gerrard the manager

Steven Gerrard Liverpool academy coach (Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC)

Putting a stop to Celtic’s dreams of landing a tenth successive Scottish league title, within an unbeaten Scottish Premiership campaign, along with some decent European escapades at Ibrox Park, added to by a promising start to his time in the West Midlands, and Gerrard, the manager, is undeniably making for interesting viewing.

For many, he has become something of a security blanket, protecting them from the cold sweat-inducing thoughts of a post-Jurgen Klopp Liverpool. Although I wish it wasn’t the way, the thought of Gerrard as the Liverpool manager of the future leaves me feeling vaguely uneasy.

Anybody who succeeds Klopp will be handed the job of replacing the irreplaceable. When that unpalatable day comes, what we will need is somebody who can tread with care and great subtlety, in the same way that Bob Paisley navigated the club after Bill Shankly unexpectedly relinquished control in 1974.

There will need to be great intelligence at play and deep and considered thought. Evolution, rather than revolution. We might well need an insider.

As strange as it is to suggest, and despite his time spent with Liverpool’s youth teams, Gerrard is no longer an insider at Anfield. Liverpool have changed dramatically as a club, during the six and a half years since he departed as a player, for a new adventure in the MLS.

 

Gerrard the player

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 29, 2008: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates scoring his 101th goal for the club, to help his side to a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth, with team-mates Lucas Levia, Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt, during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gerrard was the metronomic figure at Anfield as a player, the all-action hero, the man who dragged the club through some wildly abject seasons that were offset by the brief spikes in collective form and trophy-winning fortune of the Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez eras.

During these eras, Gerrard was the great yardstick, the player by which all others were measured. He was part of squads where he was the standout performer, matched in class by only a few other souls. Not many could genuinely walk with the giant he was. Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, and Xabi Alonso perhaps, Fernando Torres and Luis Garcia certainly.

There was very much a divide in class. Gerrard was a player whose demands of himself were beyond the capabilities of many of his teammates. He was a modern-day Billy Liddell in that respect.

We did have our good seasons, but at times the club were a complete and utter mess, totally dysfunctional. Liverpool were regularly holding out for a hero, and Gerrard owned a massive cape.

BOLTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 15, 2008: Liverpool's goalscorer captain Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates the second goal against Bolton Wanderers with team-mate Fernando Torres during the Premiership match at the Reebok Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Through Hicks and Gillett, and the tumultuous arrival of FSG, Liverpool limped along, throwing out the occasional hypnotic shape here and there. Kenny Dalglish returned, winning the League Cup, and talking himself out of winning the FA Cup, while Brendan Rodgers arrived with his envelopes and a tantalising, yet unrequited glimpse of the promised land.

The dream of winning a Premier League title lost, Gerrard eventually left Anfield a broken-hearted individual. Any return to Liverpool in a managerial capacity would have to come with psychological terms and conditions attached.

I’m not sure either he, or us, could cope with the concept of him presiding over a downturn in the club’s fortunes.

 

Gerrard’s return

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 5, 2021: Aston Villa's manager Steven Gerrard (R) speaks with Matty Cash after the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Leicester City FC at Villa Park. Aston Villa won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gerrard and Liverpool might well be right for each other at some point in the future, but I wouldn’t wish for that day to come too soon.

He needs to continue spreading his wings extensively elsewhere first, while Liverpool needs to let the era and the teachings of Klopp stretch as far a possible before they veer off down a different path.

Because that is what Gerrard the manager would represent. A new path that we perhaps aren’t quite ready for.

Saturday will be undoubtedly emotional, but we need to pay our gratitude and then ruthlessly take the points. Because, if Liverpool are at their very best against Aston Villa then Gerrard will learn a massively valuable lesson in how the contemporary version of the club are all about the collective, and no longer about the metronomic figure he was for us.

Welcome home Stevie, but up the reds…

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