Goodbye Gerrard

The Liverpool captain scored twice, with a brave header and a fine free-kick, against AFC Wimbledon in a recent FA Cup tie. In defence, he also cleared off the Liverpool line and was well away the best player on the pitch: at the age now of 34. And Liverpool will surely miss him next season. By Brian Glanville.

There’s life in the old dog yet, you might say, after Steven Gerrard, captain and idol of Liverpool for so long, having days earlier agreed to leave the club for the USA at the end of the season, inspired its recovery in the FA Cup away tie to little AFC Wimbledon, of lowly Division 2. In a tiny stadium in Kingston with fewer than 500 fans there, what you might call the remnant of a once flourishing giant-killing Wimbledon club, whose Plough Lane Stadium was shamefully sold from under their feet by the devious entrepreneur, Sam Hammam, rose high above themselves. Even if the result and their performance was hardly in the same category of the former Wimbledon side, which shocked and defeated a mighty Liverpool side in the FA Cup final at Wembley 27 years ago.

When Plough Lane was sold for a supermarket, the club decamped to that hybrid anonymous town of Milton Keynes in the Midlands, loyal outraged fans combining to generate a new Wimbledon and bravely take it all the way back into the Football League. And how close they came to embarrassing a Liverpool side, which isn’t the remote ghost of the one beaten at Wembley.

Indeed, the only major difference on this occasion was Gerrard. He scored twice, with a brave header and a fine free-kick — the first goal admittedly being the first he had scored from open play since a good year ago. But, putting Liverpool ahead he scored with a brave header and late in the game when gallant Wimbledon had inevitably tired he got the winner with a perfectly curled free-kick. In defence, he also cleared off the Liverpool line and was by far the best player on the pitch: at the age of 34.

Yet he has been in and out of the Liverpool team this season and manager Brendan Rodgers, though he eulogised him after a game in which, luckily for Liverpool, Wimbledon inevitably tired, was quite happy to let him leave for Los Angeles.

Perhaps Gerrard’s finest Liverpool game came in the European Champions League final of 2005 in Istanbul. A hopelessly open Liverpool defence had been torn to bits in the first half by Milan’s darling little Brazilian midfielder Kaka, were 3-0 down and seemingly beyond hope. Rafa Benitez, the Spanish manager, had got his tactics hopelessly wrong. Liverpool’s half time dressing room was in confusion and chaos.

But out of it all came belated good sense. Dietmar Hammam, the German international midfielder, was belatedly sent on to mark Kaka; the balance tipped dramatically to Liverpool. An inspirational Gerrard scored a goal, two more astonishingly followed and in the penalty shoot-out, Liverpool prevailed.

A couple of years later, there were startling rumours that Gerrard, who had been at Anfield since the age of seven, was going to leave for London and Chelsea. In due course this was denied, especially by Gerrard’s uncle. But it was bruited that Gerrard had been threatened by a criminal element which supported Liverpool.

True or not, there is no doubt that Liverpool might be categorised as a city of comics and criminals. It has long produced the funniest comedians in England of whom the hilarious Ken Dodd, now well into his eighties, can still stay on stage with joke after successful joke, until the small hours. Gerrard himself, reportedly, was alarmingly and literally pursued by a dangerous ruffian demanding money from him.

Until the crook was threatened and dissuaded by an even more violent and notorious hard man, on the insistence of Gerrard’s father. When he was subsequently up in the dock on criminal charges, Gerrard’s father pleaded on the grounds that he had protected his son. Not that it ultimately mattered, since the crook himself went on the run, avoiding trial, until he was re-arrested much later.

Gerrard’s long career with the England team has been an uneven one, and if he had a poor World Cup in Brazil last year, giving away a vital goal both in the defeat by Italy and that by Uruguay, having fatally and unluckily slipped some weeks earlier to present Chelsea with a Championship winning goal at Anfield, he previously was something of a victim.

For England, it might be felt that despite his profusion of caps, Gerrard never really gave the best of himself, though no fault of his own. He played effectively in the World Cup Finals of 2006 in Germany, but under the unhappy reign of Fabio Capello, there was the endless problem of dualism with Frank Lampard. For me, Gerrard has always been an attacking wing half back, or midfielder if you prefer it, after, which covers a multitude of sins of positions. Chelsea’s Lampard, now having been released by them, enjoying an Indian summer with Manchester City, was a born inside forward.

The eternal question was, how could both of them be accommodated in the England midfield, and the dualism was never properly resolved. Compromise was cowardly, and was never going to work. The two just tended to cancel one another out. For me, Gerrard always had the stronger claims, yet in the event we saw him being ludicrously forced out to operate on the left flank of midfield: as an out and out right footer. When, in his frustration, which happened all too frequently, he deserted the left flank to move into midfield — scoring the very occasional hard hit goal, it not only cluttered the England midfield but also gave free passage to the opposing right back, who could thus overlap at will. By the time it came to the 2014 Brazil World Cup, when Gerrard was given an individual central midfield role he was well past his physical prime and, alas, became less of a propulsive force than an occupational hazard.

An odd episode in his career, a few years back, occurred after he had played a coruscating game in Liverpool’s win at Newcastle United. Back late that night in Liverpool, he went to a night club of sorts, which had a part time disc jockey. A man with whom Gerrard reportedly had an altercation over what should be played, which ended with the man having a bruised face and Gerrard brought to court for alleged assault. There — it was, of course, a Liverpool court — Gerrard, despite apparent physical evidence, insisted that he had been defending himself. He was duly acquitted.

Have Liverpool and Rodgers been too quick to release him? The victory at AFC Wimbledon is strongly suggestive.