Thank you, Steven Gerrard

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“Gerrard has the heart of a lion & is the icon of the modern footballer with his ability to attack & defend so well. I’m a huge fan.” – Kaka

This has to be the hardest post I’ve ever written, partly because I haven’t quite got my head around the news that Steven Gerrard – Mr. Liverpool, Captain Fantastic – will be leaving the club at the end of the season. I knew I would see the day that he would leave the club, but I thought it would be because is retiring, not because he is joining another club. I, like many, had envisaged that he would only ever play for Liverpool.

“Gerrard is the complete player. He can score, has a great final ball, he can tackle and he drives his team forward. He is a winner.” – Vieira

I didn’t know how to articulate how I felt, but then I read Jamie Carragher’s statement about the situation, and how the club should have done more to keep him at the club:

“Steven Gerrard was allowed to drift away by Liverpool… he needed to feel wanted. How can they possibly allow captain to leave?”

How has this been allowed to happen? The long goodbye has started for Steven Gerrard but I’m struggling to work out how it has come to this.

I never thought he would leave Liverpool. I always envisaged that, like me, he would finish his career as a one club man.

He has devoted his life to Liverpool since he first walked into the Academy as an eight-year-old, making huge sacrifices on the way.

Less than six months ago, Steven stopped playing for England so he could give his all to Liverpool for the next ‘two or three’ years. Then came the uncertainty over contract talks and on these pages six weeks ago, I said Liverpool couldn’t let him drift away. Now here we are. The drift has started.

Do not underestimate the importance of feeling wanted, even for a top player. The fact that this situation has dragged on will not have helped; even at the peak of his powers, Steven needed reassurance about his ability and importance. One story comes to mind. In the summer of 2011, when Kenny Dalglish had signed Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, and Lucas Leiva was playing well, Steven asked Kenny, ‘Where am I going to play then?’ He said it as a joke but there was a hint of seriousness to it, too.

From one point of view, I can see why Steven is going to take a fresh challenge, most likely in America. He’s been the biggest star in Liverpool for 15 years and I’m not just talking about at the football club.

Liverpool is a city but it’s more like a village. Everyone seems to know one another and being the main man, like Steven, comes with incredible scrutiny.
If he ever went to a bar or restaurant, he would bring it to a standstill. For that reason, he stopped going into town long ago.

He always seems to be the talk of the town, whether that is for something he has done on the pitch or something else. The passion for the club on a daily basis can be suffocating for a local lad.
It is relentless.

When Michael Owen played for Liverpool, he lived out by Chester. He’d regularly come into training and ask how we put up with the daily bombardment of questions about the club. We found a way of coping because we knew what the city was like.

That passion made sharing success with our people all the more special. Steven would have won many more trophies had he moved to Chelsea or somewhere else but none would have tasted the same as the cups we won together.

There is a flip side to that. When results are not going to plan, as happened far too often during Steven’s 17 years, you carry a sense of guilt and responsibility. Wherever he goes, he will never have that burden or emotional attachment. Maybe this gives you an idea of how hard it is for a local lad to leave Liverpool.

Take Michael and Steve McManaman, both wonderful players who came through the ranks. They left to test themselves in Spain when they were in their prime and, as a result, are no longer loved.
Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez, by contrast, will forever be adored, even though they left at similar points in their careers.
Fans understand that foreign players will come in, do their thing, then leave but they have never been able to accept one of their own moving.

If Steven had gone to Chelsea 10 years ago, he would probably have encountered the same problems as Owen and McManaman. Now that he is effectively a squad player, who has run himself into the ground, the reaction to his imminent departure is completely different.

I’m not sure the Manchester lads who came through under Sir Alex Ferguson at United, or local boys playing for London clubs, would be able to associate with that. United’s Class of 92, for example, were never considered the standout stars and they were always playing for winning teams.

Steven, however, has always been the one expected to rescue Liverpool, to provide inspiration in times of need. He is 34 now but the demands on him have never changed. For that reason, I think the move will be fantastic for him and his family.

In terms of getting more playing time, I can also see why he is leaving.

I have spoken to him on many occasions about the transition from being one of the first names on the teamsheet to having your appearances managed.

It is difficult and that, in all honesty, was the main reason I retired.
He is now missing one game in three and, in all likelihood, next season that would have risen to one in two.

Steven is not someone who would be comfortable just sitting on the bench and, in that sense, he has made the right decision.
Still, I cannot help feeling Liverpool’s hierarchy should have done more to ensure he remained at Anfield.

Surely they could have come up with an arrangement that would have benefited all parties in the short and long term?
People have been talking about Steven as being a future Liverpool manager, but it is without substance.

I would never advocate a high-profile player being given such a role on the basis of reputation, whether it is him, Thierry Henry at Arsenal or anyone else.

But over the next 12 months Steven could have been given a role on the staff to combine with his playing duties.
It would have been like work experience, with him shadowing Brendan Rodgers, looking at how the academy is run — all the different aspects of the club.

At the end of the year, it might have been that Steven wasn’t at the right level to be a coach or he could have decided that coaching wasn’t for him.

But I look at what is happening with Ryan Giggs at Manchester United now and I am dismayed that Liverpool are letting that experience leave.

Yes, it has been said he can come back, but nothing is certain. Those same discussions were held before I left but time moves on, things change.

For now, Liverpool fans need to savour the next five months, as it will not become apparent what he has given until he has gone.

Was he the best midfielder in Premier League history?
You don’t need to hear another glowing tribute from me, so let’s hand you over to his fellow professionals.
He was selected for the PFA team of the year on eight occasions — a record.

Giggs, Patrick Vieira and Henry were chosen by their peers six times; Roy Keane and Frank Lampard were included five times, Paul Scholes twice.

And where does he stand with Liverpool?
Kenny Dalglish, as an individual, is No 1 for what he did as a player, manager and ambassador but I regard Steven as the best player, not just for his ability but for the sacrifices he made.

You have to remember also that Steven stayed loyal to Liverpool for five years while they were out of the Champions League, even when he was being courted by potential winners of that tournament such as Real Madrid.

No other player with his talent would have done that.
Will there ever be another world-class player who devotes his entire career to Liverpool? No.

Jamie Carragher has epitomised what every Liverpool fan wants to say, and has raised the questions that every Liverpool fan wants answered.

I am shocked that the club could not honour our most loyal player in recent years a contract that reflects his demands, despite everything he has ever done for the club. As Carragher touched upon, he has made great personal sacrifice as well as great sacrifice in his career for us, for Liverpool, how could we not honour that? He even gave up his England career, despite being captain, in order to “give his all to Liverpool for the next ‘two or three’ years”, then why could we not give him another two or three year contract? Why could we not meet his wage demands?

Carragher touched upon the way Gerrard is being managed, this ‘miss one match, play two’ policy, and that Rodgers’ plans were to change further next season to ‘miss one, play one’ – something Gerrard clearly does not want. So not only would the club not honour his contract demands, Gerrard is simply not being managed correctly by our manager, Brendan Rodgers? There are too many failings on behalf of the club in this saga, it seems. Looking at our current form, it isn’t hard to see that our record when we start with Gerrard (three wins in twelve games when Gerrard has started the match) is not as successful as it used to be, but surely when there is a will to sort something out, there is a way? Why could he not, as Carragher suggested, be doing his coaching badges and shadowing Rodgers when he isn’t on the pitch playing? Surely, that is a win, win situation for all? It combats his lack of playing time and keeps him at the club.

FSG, the American owners of Liverpool, simply don’t understand football. They sacked Kenny Dalglish only a few years ago to the fans’ dismay – whether Kenny deserved to go is irrelevant to this post – but to sack him? To sack arguably one of Liverpool’s most successful players? To sack the man affectionately known to many as ‘The King’? It is something I cannot comprehend as a life-long fan, but to them, he was just another man in a suit who simply wasn’t doing what they wanted him to do. You simply, in the eyes of the fans, treat Kenny Dalglish like that. In this situation, you cannot treat Steven Gerrard like this.

As Carragher discussed the possibility of Gerrard coming back to the club in the future, and although the club have said there will be a role for him, where is the guarantee? We all thought that when Jamie Carragher, another of few loyal one-club players in recent years, would retire, he would be guaranteed a role as a coach at the club, at least, surely? “…But I look at what is happening with Ryan Giggs at Manchester United now and I am dismayed that Liverpool are letting that experience leave. Yes, it has been said he can come back, but nothing is certain. Those same discussions were held before I left but time moves on, things change.” This says it all in my mind, that even though Carragher was “guaranteed” a job at the club, things changed and ultimately, he has no role at the club, hence why he is a pundit on Sky Sports.

I know for a fact that one of Gerrard’s deciding factors was not only his wish to continue playing regular football, but it was Frank Lampard and the rejuvenation he has experienced since leaving Chelsea for Manchester City. Frank Lampard, despite starting his career at West Ham, will forever be remembered as a Chelsea legend, spending the peak of his career winning many trophies at the the peak of Chelsea’s dominance. Chelsea let him go at the end of his contract, much to the dismay of their fans, and he joined the MLS League team New York Bulls. Their parent club, Manchester City, decided to take Lampard on loan (I wonder what loop hole City exploited there), and he has since played fantastically for the blue half of Manchester. He has been given a new lease of life, as if he was going stagnant at Chelsea, and he needed a new challenge. No doubt Steven Gerrard is looking at him and thinking he could do with a new challenge, in the hope it will be a successful change for him. The only difference however, is that Gerrard has confirmed he will not join another English club and line up against Liverpool, as “that is something I cannot comprehend” – which I for one am thrilled about. I couldn’t see Gerrard in another shirt, let alone a shirt of our rivals.

I am angry that my club is being run by people that simply do not care. I disagree that a player should be in the starting line-up by sentiment, but as I said, when there is a will to sort something out, there is a way. Why the club did not fight to keep him on, whether as a player or a coach or a hybrid as both, I do not understand. Since Suarez’ departure, Rodgers’ has been shown up for the mediocre Championship manager that he is, and FSG are nothing but soulless businessmen that are simply using football to make money, as many owners are nowadays.

There is not a single player I would want, in the current team, to replace him as captain. Compared to the squad of players that were by no means ‘household names’ that we had ten years ago when we won the Champions League in Istanbul – there is no passion. Ten years ago, we had players who played for the shirt, we had players who played with bags of passion and fought for their right to wear the shirt. In the current team, there is only one passionate player left – Martin Skrtel. The man demonstrated only weeks ago that even a head injury won’t get him off the field, but I look at the players that have left, players like Daniel Agger, and wonder how long he has left at the club? Agger was forced out, but these are the players who would honour the captaincy like it should be honoured. Instead, we have Jordan Henderson as vice-captain and no doubt front runner to replace Gerrard as captain next season. It makes me sad that ten years ago, we had a team full of captains and the best of them was the captain, and now we have a team of overpaid, undeterred robots that simply play for their wages, not the passion of the club, and this is reflected in our league position. We will never see a player with the passion of Steven Gerrard ever again, no, but where is the pride, where is the belief?

“Is Gerrard the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo but yes, I think he just might be.” – Zidane

Next season will go one of two ways – we will have a lease of life without Gerrard and win the league, or we will fall and wish he was there to save as he has done on countless occasions. Regardless, Carragher summed it up in a nutshell, “Will there ever be another world-class player who devotes his entire career to Liverpool? No.”

Thank you, Steven Gerrard. Thank you for being my hero and I wish you all the best wherever you end up.
You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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