Steven Gerrard: The essence of Liverpool

Steven Gerrard is enjoying his time with Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS.-

The former Liverpool captain with his power, his skill, his tactical awareness, was beyond doubt a very fine footballer. Whether he was great defies calculation. By Brian Glanville.

Steven Gerrard, after his long, distinguished years at Liverpool, has now entered the good old American Elephant’s Graveyard in Los Angeles. Almost concurrently with the enrolment of Frank Lampard, his frequent partner with England, to the newly-formed New York City franchisee. Recently the teams met in Los Angeles, where Gerrard played, his team wiping the floor with the New York opposition.

In various ways Gerrard’s new book is a controversial one, but then in many ways Liverpool is a controversial city. Gerrard joined the Liverpool club as a boy and has left now as a 35-year-old veteran. Disappointed that Liverpool haven’t offered him a coaching role but hopeful, and no more, of one day becoming their manager.

That he and Lampard should now be in opposition in the USA is intriguing, given that their frequent midfield partnership in the England team was such a subject of controversy. Overall, England managers, Eriksson or Capello, failed to confront the fact that there was an obvious contrast between the two and that they tended to cancel each other out, even if Gerrard always looked in essence a natural wing half and Lampard essentially an inside forward.

In the event, there were ludicrous compromises, the daftest of which was to play the essentially right-footed Gerrard out on the left flank. True, at Wembley one day, one saw him cut in and inevitably with his powerful right foot, drive home a spectacular goal, but overall the dualism was never properly resolved to the detriment of the England team.

That Gerrard was deeply attached to the Liverpool team he served so long is above dispute, but the strong rumours that he was once prepared to sign for Chelsea, though he denied them, have never wholly disappeared. Never would he, nor could he leave his beloved Liverpool he has frequently told us. But a story circulated he had been threatened by hard men among the Liverpool supporters with retribution if he did.

He was hurt when Alex Ferguson, the long serving and commanding manager of Manchester United, suggested that good though Gerrard was; he wasn’t in the top echelon of footballers. To which one might reply that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Gerrard with his power, his skill, his tactical awareness, was beyond doubt a very fine footballer. Whether he was great defies calculation.

I have no doubt about what constituted his greatest game. That was in the European Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul. Throughout the first half, Kaka — the electric Brazilian midfielder — was allowed to run riot with the consequence that Liverpool went three goals behind, and seemed doomed. In the half-time interval there was chaos in the Liverpool dressing room, confrontation with the Spanish manager Rafa Benitez, whose tactics, as Gerrard particularly insisted, had been so mistaken. At his insistence, Benitez belatedly sent on as a substitute Dietmar Hamman to close mark Kaka. This he did with huge effect. Milan now were subdued, Liverpool surged forward and Gerrard himself scored the first of the three goals which took his team to-extra time and eventual breathless success on penalties.

In his book, Gerrard recounts another clash with Benitez, never a wholly convincing manager for me, even if he has now attained the peak of his ambition, becoming manager of the club he played for as a junior. In this instance, the bone of contention was Benitez’s bizarre decision to sell Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid after five distinguished years at Anfield. Gerrard duly gives Benitez credit for buying the gifted Alonso, master of the long-ranging through pass, in the first place, but found it incomprehensible that he should sell him. For his part, Benitez has made a tactful reply to Gerrard insisting that he doesn’t feel he made any mistake. Yet it has always been clear that he did.

In Liverpool, great comedians have long emerged, fine footballers have been many — though alas, less today — but criminals have also been all too conspicuous by their looming presence; as Gerrard found out to his discomfiture. The story has been recounted that one of the most dangerous of them was demanding Gerrard pay him money and was following him in the city to demand it. Gerrard was reportedly saved by an even bigger and more formidable criminal who threatened the lesser one with retribution if he didn’t leave Gerrard alone. Which he did!

To this there was a strange sequel. Some while later the second criminal was up in court, faced with an almost inevitable prison sentence. Forward came Steven Gerrard’s father to testify in his favour and plead for acquittal on the grounds that the man had protected his son. As it transpired, the plea was made redundant since the criminal simply absconded though he was later re-arrested.

Gerrard himself was subsequently in court accused of attacking a DJ in a Liverpool venue, just hours after playing superbly for Liverpool at Newcastle United, where he was the star of an emphatic victory. There was even footage of the incident in which it hardly seemed that Gerrard’s plea he was defending himself was authenticated. But when it came to a Liverpool court and jury, Gerrard was duly acquitted.

Perhaps his most unhappy memory goes back to the season before last when Liverpool were in hot contention for the Premiership title. But in the vital match at Anfield against Chelsea, Gerrard, last man in defence, had the bad luck to slip and fall thus giving his opponent the chance to run on, score, win the game and cost Liverpool the Premiership.

In the last World Cup in Brazil, Gerrard looked vulnerable and faded, arguably misused in a central role, which exposed him to exploitation. Indeed he took some of the blame for two goals scored against a mediocre England team. It was sad to see him go out internationally not with a bang but with a whimper.

In his book he has special praise for Luis Suarez, who disgraced himself in that tournament: “There was a sustained period when playing with Luis was like being under a magic spell. He blew me away with his talent.” And in that World Cup, there was little Gerrard or the rest of the England team could do to prevent Suarez making havoc with their defence and guiding Uruguay to an all too easy victory.