Steven Gerrard was once an excellent player. Perhaps even a world-class one, whatever that means. He won the Champions League, has long been an icon in English soccer and made tons of money kicking a ball. People love him. He has, by any sane measure, had quite an enviable career.
You, dear reader, know all about Steven Gerrard. The reason you do, apart from his achievements in the game, is that he is leaving his boyhood club, Liverpool, at the end of this season to join the LA Galaxy. As a result, various media outlets have seen fit to treat the rest of the English soccer season as one long, teary goodbye to ol’ Stevie G. No doubt there are many that believe that this cloying hero worship is Gerrard’s fair dues for his standing in the game. I am not one of those. To put it mildly, this months-long Gerrard ass-kissing session is doing my fucking head in.
What has been missing from the conversation so far about Gerrard’s last season at Liverpool is some much needed perspective. This cringe-worthy farewell tour and constant references to “fairy tale endings” would have been a little more understandable if Gerrard were retiring at the end of the season, but he’s not. Despite the repeated praise given to Gerrard for being such a loyal “one club man,” it is quite literally not true. He is leaving Liverpool for another club. And given the recent history involving high profile players and Major League Soccer, I wouldn’t bet against Gerrard popping up again in the Premier League again on loan, despite his protestations.
The fact that Gerrard’s last season with Liverpool is being treated like an elaborate retirement party, despite the 18-month contract he is set to sign with the LA Galaxy, is apt. His career has always contained more than its fair share of paradoxes. On the international scene, he was part of a much-hyped “golden generation” of English players that ultimately turned out to be brilliant individually but fool’s gold as a collective. He is one of a handful of players to earn a century of caps, but the England teams with him at their cores never even threatened to win international honors.
At Liverpool, there are few that can match his stature within in the club and amongst the fanbase. But part of the reason that he shone so brightly at Liverpool is because of the lack of quality around him. Partly because of his energetic, lung-bursting playing style, but more so because of the relative deficiencies of the teams he was in for the better part of two decades, Gerrard has always been raging against the light. The pinnacle of Gerrard’s career, Liverpool’s remarkable Champions League victory in 2005, is memorable not just for the heroics performed by team in the final but for the sheer improbability of the triumph. The culmination was unbelievable, but can anyone deny that the 2005 Liverpool team was one of the worst European champions in the modern era?
In Liverpool’s best teams of the last 10 years, Gerrard has actually been a secondary figure. In Rafael Benítez’ league runners-up team of 2009, Gerrard was shifted to accommodate the superior midfield talents of Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso. In Brendan Rodgers’ exciting side of last season, the driving force behind the team’s success was by far and away the twin attacking forces of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez. So yes, Gerrard has been a great player, but he has arguably never been the best player on a great team. That is not to say that his contributions to those teams should be ignored, but as with everything else about the Steven Gerrard conversations these day, some perspective is needed.
No one should deny Gerrard his choice of moving to MLS. Faced with the prospect of increasingly having his playing time limited, and maybe even a contract on reduced terms, he chose a move abroad for more guaranteed money and playing time. Faced with a similar choice in our own careers, many of us would do the same. He is still an icon and a Liverpool legend, but let’s not deify him.
Steven Gerrard leaving Liverpool is no tragedy. His powers have been on the wane for some time, and he is leaving for a less competitive league instead of sticking around to see his current team build for a future without him. He doesn’t “deserve” to win the FA Cup, or to lead Liverpool back into the top four in the league just because he’s moving jobs.
He deserves respect for a fantastic career so far, but he’s not dead, and soccer doesn’t owe him a happy ending. Especially since this isn’t even the end.