Steven Gerrard’s long goodbye just got a little bit shorter

Well that was fun wasn’t it? If, like me, you sat in front of the screen Sunday morning open mouthed as Liverpool’s captain, leader legend (copyright John Terry) made the greatest and most idiotic 48-second cameo of all time, then the Steven Gerrard question remains a tricky one. Thanks to the three-match ban that’s on its way, we can put off finding answers for a while, but Brendan Rodgers will eventually need to decide how the future LA Galaxy icon fits into the rest of the season.

Some fans say he should never play for Liverpool again. Some say his apology vindicates him entirely. Yet more that say he should remain as an impact sub between now and the end of the season.

Where do I stand in all this? Well, I’m not the most sentimental type when it comes to players at LFC. There is a strong argument that Gerrard’s positive influence finished last spring against Chelsea, when his slip derailed Liverpool’s title run. Since then, physically, he’s been a shadow of the player who ranks among the five greatest in club history.

Sunday’s red card shows a mental desire to “make an impact” in a way that Gerrard hadn’t done since the start of his career. In between the two-footers on various Everton players (and others), he’s relied on his sheer brilliance to influence games. With that fading, the desire has returned, even if it was applied in the most inane of ways on Sunday.

From relieving pressure on Rodgers to giving journalists any easy #narrative, the fact he’s now unavailable makes things easier. He can’t be picked, so there’s no debate to be had about starting him, when to bring him on, or if he should be omitted from the squad. I never thought the form or fitness of Steven Gerrard would be a distraction for a Liverpool manager, but that’s where we are, seeing a three-match ban as a silver lining as the club chases fourth place.

If Liverpool’s now slim top four ambitions are intact going into the final few games of the season (the penultimate weekend would be his last at Anfield), Gerrard should get five, ten minutes at most. And only at the end of games, and only if the result is well in hand.

As always, this period seems crucial to the next stage of squad development for the club. Obviously, it’s easier to attract new talent with Champions League football on offer rather than Europa. Now five points back of Manchester United, there’s no room for sentimentality. A top four finish can’t be risked in the name of honoring a fading legend.

Same goes for the FA Cup, should Liverpool advance. An FA Cup final may fall on Gerrard’s birthday, but if Liverpool gets that far, the day is all about winning silverware for the club.

It’s difficult to say out loud, but I guess what I’m saying is this: Thanks for everything Stevie, but the traditions of The Liverpool Way leave no room for sentiment. If a player is no longer able to deliver on the pitch, a player should no longer play for Liverpool.