Last week’s Instagram post by Steven Gerrard has left many people guessing as to what will happen with the ex-Liverpool player’s future.
In the post he thanked the LA Galaxy fans for their support over the past season and said the city will always have a place in his heart. The team are currently preparing for the end-of-season play-offs, which will take place in November.
The fact that the Galaxy were holding a fan appreciation day that Sunday may have had something to do with Gerrard’s post, but to me there seemed to be a further message hidden between the lines. The midfielder’s contract is up at the end of the season and, given the timing, it’s not hard to imagine he wants to come back to Liverpool. And why wouldn’t he? He never wanted to leave in the first place.
When asked about whether there could be a place for Gerrard back at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp was gushing in his praise of the old captain (via the Daily Mail):
“Steven Gerrard is always so welcome at Liverpool FC. You cannot imagine how welcome. Nobody should worry that we have no space for Steven Gerrard. No – everything will be fine, 100 per cent.”
If that’s his public position on the matter I can imagine his private one is a little different. This is a difficult situation for Klopp. His level of popularity among Liverpool fans is such that he could drop anyone from the starting lineup and the supporters would accept it. Considering how well the team are doing, he can pretty much do anything he wants. But there is still one person who supersedes the coach in popularity with the club’s supporters and his name is Steven Gerrard.
So should Klopp take Gerrard back? Well, he’s a club legend so of course it’s only natural people would want him to return. But scratch below the surface a little and the fallacy of the notion begins to take hold. Firstly, he hasn’t completed his coaching badges that would allow him to take up a position in that capacity.
Secondly, the idea that he should come back to Liverpool as a player should be taken with a large pinch of salt. The 36-year-old’s last playing campaign for Liverpool was two seasons ago in 2014/15. Now, not to be disrespectful, but without putting too fine a point on it, he had a shocker. Imagine Wayne Rooney’s performances this season, but in an even deeper position.
In the last two years of his Liverpool career Gerrard was asked to adjust to a different role. From being an all-action midfielder, he took on a more defensive ‘quarterback’ role. Initially, one could say he had some success in the position. In the 2013/14 season, he was still an important member of the side. While they conceded lots of goals, he still provided enough quality in an attacking sense through his goals and assists to make himself valuable.
But in the 2014/15 season, particularly the early part of that term, it was obvious there was a major problem. Not only was his once awesome physical power waning, his lack of game intelligence, which had never been his strongest point, was cruelly exposed. While starting most of the side’s games, they were in a lowly eighth position when he got injured against Sunderland in January. They went unbeaten in eight league fixtures in his absence, before he managed to get himself sent off within a minute of his return, in a crucial showdown against Manchester United.
In statistical terms that season, there was a stark difference between the points per game gleaned by the team when he was in the side (1.5) and the PPG accrued (2.2) when he was out of it. Not only that, his presence became a major burden when absent. It was obvious in the first half of the season that Liverpool were struggling to cope with the demands of the league allied to Champions League competition. As a young manager with no experience of juggling the two, Brendan Rodgers came under a lot of fire after the team completely failed to show in the home game against Real Madrid, which they lost 3-0.
Given this non-performance, and the fact that the side were due to face Chelsea in a crucial league game a few days later, Rodgers decided to shuffle the pack accordingly, by making seven changes for the return trip, including leaving out his captain. While still losing the game 1-0, the side managed to put in a credible performance.
So, what happened? Were the fans and media hailing the brave decision of Rodgers to give a clearly under-performing player a rest? Not at all. In fact the reaction was akin to someone shooting Bambi. How dare this young upstart taint the legacy of a legend by dropping him. What was he thinking of, denying the club’s beloved hero one last chance to start at the Bernabeu? So if Rodgers was going to get that level of stick for leaving out an ageing, out of form central midfielder, why would Klopp subject himself to it?
Liverpool are in the middle of a highly impressive season under Klopp and have been playing with a pace and attacking verve not seen since the days Luis Suarez graced the Anfield turf. They have perhaps their best chance of winning a league title in 27 years. So would one of their greatest players ever be an addition to that? Well, possibly he could. But if it ain’t broke, then surely it doesn’t need fixing.
While a starting berth is beyond the bounds of possibility, people have hinted there may be a role for Gerrard as an impact sub to come off the bench. On the surface of it sounds like a half decent idea, but it blindly ignores two major problems. Firstly, when Gerrard was asked to accept such a role two years ago, he rejected it and decided to move to Los Angeles instead. Secondly, considering the high intensity pressing game which Klopp employs, it’s mightily hard to imagine a 36-year-old coping with it. Daniel Sturridge is finding it hard to get into the team on that basis, and he’s almost ten years younger than Gerrard!
So while an energetic mid-2000s Gerrard may have been perfect for this Liverpool side, a mid-2010s era player certainly is not. Then there’s the possibly more oblique factor of it being bad karma. Gerrard played for Liverpool for 17 years and never won a league medal. Now, I’m not saying there was a direct link between correlation and causation, but you’d rather not take the chance. That slip against Chelsea was cruel, and may have just been further evidence that when it came to winning a league title the gods were against him. So, why would you bring a bad luck charm back?
Obviously football fans are a sentimental breed. Any Liverpool fan would love to see Gerrard win a league medal, but some things in life weren’t meant to be. Jimmy White wasn’t destined to win the World Snooker Championship. Colin Montgomerie, no matter how hard he tried, just couldn’t win that golf major.
But logic has to be put before sentiment in any sporting decision. Are we expecting those guys to play such competitions until they are 70, just to give them the chance of winning? Of course not. So Gerrard had a great Liverpool career, but he never won the league title. Fair enough. He, and the rest of us, just have to accept that.
So what should he do in this situation? Well, here’s a thought: park the ego aside for a minute. Forget about playing for Liverpool. He’s already had one farewell tour, and it was painful, so please don’t put people through another.
He could stay in the United States for another year or he could come back to England, do a bit of punditry and make a few quid for himself. He might take a look at his old teammate Jamie Carragher, who has carved out a fine career, by doing just that. Alternatively he could start doing his coaching badges, because whatever about the next few months he’s going to need to do something for the next 30 years.
But, whatever he does, it would be wise that he didn’t act the prima donna by trying to get back into the Liverpool team. That day is gone.
Gerrard was a great Liverpool player. Who could forget Istanbul in 2005, the Millenium Stadium in 2006, or countless other Superman acts in the jersey?
But sometimes you’ve got to know when it’s time to exit stage left. So let’s leave it there and not taint the legacy further.
Mark Townsend, Pundit Arena