Having been the driving force on the pitch and the symbolisation of the club off it for over a decade, Steven Gerrard has been at the centre of literally everything I can remember at Liverpool. Whilst all has changed around him he’s been the constant, the heartbeat, the one to drag his boyhood club out of the dust when they’ve needed it most. So to see him announce that he’s leaving at the end of the season is, well, to say the least, a bit of a shock.
Not in the sense that it’s a massively surprising run of events – he’ll be 35 by the time June starts – but because he’s been around forever from my perspective; what he and the club have between them should never come to an end. It’s not fair. But time waits for no man, no matter how great he may be. Or rather, more accurately, how great he was.
It’s got to the point where Gerrard, other than being the captain, has no genuinely justifiable reason to be the centre-piece of the team – the one that everyone has always expected him to be and the one that he himself has always needed to be. Call it a lack of true understanding of the game on his part if you want, but it’s in his nature, in his need to please both others and himself, that everything he does has to count; it’s why Rafael Benítez had to substitute him in a derby against Everton in 2007 for showing too much passion.
That instinct has, rightly, never been taken out of his playing style, but perhaps Benítez was the only one to ever properly utilise and work with it. Under the Spaniard he could lead by example, but it was Xabi Alonso who would dictate the play. Set loose from the weight of those responsibilities, free to do what he really does best, Gerrard played the best football of his career. Now, thrust back into a role with those heavy expectations again but without the legs and style to properly carry out what role is required of him, the combination of the two means that this may be the right moment for it all to end.
It has of course been his decision to finally leave, as arguably the greatest ever player of one of the world’s greatest clubs deserves to have the choice over. He’s chosen himself that his time at Liverpool is up. Would there be more time for Gerrard at Anfield in a different role, one which would see him introduced later on in games and utilised nearer the box rather than running the game from the start in deeper areas? Undoubtedly, yes – that quality and ability to change matches never disappears. He knows that most if not all at the club would happily see him stay. But for a man with such high demands of himself, for someone who has been used to being relied upon for so long, that need to impress everyone and pull the club up never vanishes either.
Staying at Liverpool wouldn’t be fulfilling for him, not for a player who has always embraced (and stepped up to) the biggest challenges thrown at him. It would have been easier for him to leave all those years ago, and satisfy what could be mistaken as an egotistical personality due to his on-the-pitch style through inevitably winning trophies wherever he went, but he didn’t; he put the team way before himself. Now the tables have turned and it would have been easier for him to stay, to see out his career there, but he isn’t. It’s a decision which is the best for his wants and, again, intentionally or not in this instance, for the team. Sadly, for all that he still has to offer, what Liverpool need and what Gerrard needs make them an incompatible match.
Because football, as it does to everyone, has moved on from him. Liverpool are in the process of doing so from him too – and Steven Gerrard knows that he must do the same from Liverpool. If ever there was a right moment, it’s now. But whilst this story will come to an end at the conclusion of the season, the association and the memories of a true club legend never will.