Steven Gerrard has announced his lifelong association with Liverpool Football Club will come to an end in the summer of 2015. I am not going to tell you what Steven Gerrard has been or what he has achieved in his career- there will be plenty of others who will do a far better job of that than I ever could over the coming days, weeks, months and years. But before I am accused of a lack of support or otherwise, I will say this much: Steven Gerrard is the single greatest sporting icon I will ever have.
It is partly because of this that I am pleased he will leave Anfield in the summer. Steven Gerrard's prime years extended from about 2000-2009. He was a colossus as Liverpool finished second in the 2008-09 season, helping the Reds destroy Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford and complete a European Cup double over Real Madrid. He even outshone the great Fernando Torres that campaign. But over the summer, after Liverpool lost Xabi Alonso and the Hicks & Gillett nightmare began in earnest, something seemed to happen to Gerrard. In the 2009-10 season, he was not the same player. He stopped scoring and he stopped running. Liverpool collapsed and but for a brief period in early 2014 in an unorthodox regista role, Gerrard's form has never truly recovered.
For much of the last four years, people have been trying desperately to convince themselves Gerrard is still a special footballer, despite an array of poor performances. Liverpool players who have come to the club during this time have been effervescent, telling us how much he wows them in training, how he is still world class, and one of the best players they have worked with. Journalists have also done likewise- voting Gerrard runner up in the FWA Player of the Year award for 2013-14. The rest of the Premier League felt it justifiable to place Gerrard in the midfield of the PFA Team of the Year alongside Yaya Toure, despite the fact that Gerrard wasn't even Liverpool's best midfielder that season. Farbeit for me to accuse all these people of dishonesty, but I think they are more bowled over by the man he is and the player he was, rather than the player he now is. Every half-decent performance is met with cries of "SEE! Where are the haters now? You tell me there is a better player at Liverpool right now!" Accolades such as the aforementioned PFA and FWA awards seemed to be hurled at him far too easily, and I doubt that if any other player had produced the same performances as Gerrard last season (good as they were), they would have had nearly the same level of recognition.
Of course Gerrard is still capable of good performances, he is still a Premier League footballer and a Premier League footballer by merit. But his good performances are too few and far between for a club of Liverpool's standing and ambition. He also does not fit with the style of the rest of the team. He is far too slow, not suited to quick passing, neither positionally nor tactically astute, and in a deep-lying role, offers no useful protection to an already fragile defence. Put simply, and with a heavy heart, Gerrard on the pitch has been holding this team back.
Gerrard gets a lot of credit for his off-the-pitch presence. It is difficult for anybody to comment properly on this who does not spend time with the squad at Melwood, but after five seasons in which Liverpool have finished 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 2nd and now on course to go back down to around 7th again, it will take a lot to convince me that we really are going to suffer when Gerrard is not there behind the scenes. A lot was made of Jamie Carragher's behind-the-scenes presence and all that leadership and experience we would be losing. Carragher retired and we almost won the League. Football is a soap opera. It loves it's narratives, and it is absolutely full to the brim with rhetoric lacking any evidence whatsoever- I will boldly suggest that the behind-the-scenes presence and leadership of experienced players is an example of this.
I, like most people, would have been content to see Gerrard's role in the team better managed, to be a squad player, to be our version of Manchester City's Frank Lampard. We could also have offered him training opportunities to develop his coaching skills, and fans are quickly criticising the club and Brendan Rodgers for seemingly failing to do either. But the fact is Gerrard himself did not want these roles. He wants to play 90 minutes game in, game out. The club are quite right not to agree to this. Gerrard's reputation would only have deteriorated more and more, and Liverpool would have suffered by continuing to dedicate one of the precious ten outfield spots to him. Gerrard's own demands have led to his decision to quit the club. And in America, he will have the opportunity to play the goalscoring, all-action midfield role he used to enjoy so much, one last time.