One word reviews this season have been pretty easy. Watch the match. Find a negative adjective. Publish. Job done.
This one is even easier in one way – I don’t need to see the game to write it. And yet it’s a lot more difficult. Steven Gerrard can’t be summed up in a word. Lots of better writers than me will throw the word “legend”around. Icon. Irreplaceable. None of that does him justice.
The Liverpool way has always been about the team. We’ve had more than our share of world-class players: Dalglish, Rush, Barnes, Keegan. Old timers will say Billy Liddell (way before my time, but the team was actually nicknamed Liddellpool when he played) But Liverpool didn’t do stars like other clubs; instead playing within a definitive team structure. Maybe the modern demands for superstars have changed that. Maybe not. But Gerrard changed it at Liverpool.
Gerrard’s influence is such that he doesn’t symbolize the club. He is the club. Defiance, determination, skill and pride. Modest, he always seems painfully shy to me. Unless the ball’s at his feet. Or there to be won (and sometimes when it wasn’t).
He could have left before of course. He would have graced any of Europe’s royalty (or Chelsea) but those days are gone.
His decline has been agonizing to watch. Make no mistake, despite the odd goal or raking cross-field pass, he has declined horribly. Last season it was there, but the attacking flair of Suárez, Sturridge and Sterling masked a lot of problems further back. Like a love affair nearing its end, with both parties knowing it’s done but not wanting to be the one to say it, the last eight or nine or more months have been heartbreaking.
Gerrard has made the right call to move on, as painful as it is for all involved. I respect that. I hope that moving away from his hometown will ease some of the pain and he enjoys this amazing country that has also made me so welcome. He may be rejuvenated in LA.
I don’t think the decline is all physical. I think both the slip and the header that set up Suárez for Uruguay at the World Cup have had a damaging effect. He’s always struck me as the kind of guy who remembers the worst moments more than the best.
Speaking of memories, I have two that shine through for me, and neither are about the magic of Istanbul. In the 90th minute of the 2006 FA Cup final, I actually said to my TV “If you’ve got anything left, Stevie, now’s the time”. 30 seconds later he smashed his volley in from 30 yards. I didn’t celebrate. I giggled. For about a week.
When Suárez and Evra had their “disagreement,”I was working at Anfield as a producer for ESPN in Asia, and bumped into Gerrard in one of the narrow corridors around the dressing rooms. He’d been out injured for ages. “Great to have you back skipper,” I whimpered. He talked to me for about 2 minutes. Asked where I worked, where I’d come from. We talked about the passion of Asian Liverpool fans and how it always amazed him. I think, I think, I was blushing like I was on a first date. Then he left to do media duties or something. My memory is a bit blurred after that. I didn’t have the nerve to ask for a photo.
I don’t know how he’ll get on in MLS. I don’t know if I’ll really want to watch. I expect I will. I hope he doesn’t come back on loan and play again. Let’s make it a clean break. Let’s remember all the credible times.
I’ll miss his furrowed brow. That look of despair as the team crumbled around him again. That smile when he scored. I know he cares as much as any other Liverpool fan. And I know it’s been a blessing and a curse to carry that responsibility.
So Stevie, enjoy LA, then Get your coaching badges. There’s a manager’s seat at anfield with your name on it. Maybe you can win the title that you gave everything to win as a player.
This is not goodbye. It’s simply