Monday, 5 August 2013

Gerrard: A dying breed of footballer

Footballers don’t know the meaning of the word ‘loyalty’ these days. It may well be a tired cliché, but it’s hard to argue against.

Huge TV contracts have enabled clubs to offer enormous wage packets that entice the best players from around the world to the Premier League to entertain the English public every week. That’s a good thing, but it undoubtedly and inevitably has had some unfortunate side-effects.

Call me xenophobic, but the foreign superstars that follow the money to England only stay as long as the medals keep piling up and the contracts get more lucrative. As a result, few stay long enough to develop a genuine affection for the club and affinity with its fans, let alone earn the status of club legend.

Just look at Liverpool, for example. For every Sami Hyypia, an undisputed legend, there’s a traitorous Torres and a subversive Suarez, who have scored sensational goals and spoken some meaningless platitudes about loving the club, the city and the supporters before seeking to jump ship at the slightest hint of choppy waters up ahead.

Consequently, we are experiencing a time when the footballing culture is one far less likely to cultivate loyal players that can be legitimately described as ‘legends’. Of course, that term has been misused to such an extent that any half decent player who goads hated rival fans after scoring a goal can be erroneously labelled a legend.

However, the true definition, namely a player who demonstrates extraordinary skill, dedication and loyalty while playing for a club they clearly love for the majority of their career, is much more difficult to live up to. In fact, at Liverpool in recent years only two players have merited description as a Liverpool legend: Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.

Retirement led to a flood of tributes for Jamie Carragher and now Gerrard’s testimonial match against Olympiacos, comfortably won 2-0, gives me the perfect opportunity to sing the skipper’s praises.
"He's got that hunger and desire, when he plays he's never beaten; never ever beaten. He's very much a team player. 15 years here now & 630 games, he's a wonderful demonstration of loyalty and affection for one club." Rodgers on Gerrard
At times Gerrard may have been less appreciated, perhaps because he has become such a part of the furniture at Anfield that it is just assumed that he will be there to turn in top notch performances and score world class goals season after season.

Liverpool wouldn't be where they are today, though, without their captain fantastic. The number of times Gerrard has dragged Liverpool back into matches single-handedly is simply staggering. Whole seasons have been saved solely by Steven Gerrard’s contribution to what have often been otherwise ordinary Liverpool teams, supporting the view that he is the greatest ever player to pull on that famous Red shirt as his main rivals, such as Kenny Dalglish, played in teams packed with star quality, not the mediocre journeymen Gerrard has often had to put up with.

Not only has Gerrard won everything possible at Liverpool (except for, frustratingly, the Premier League title) he has always shown up in the big matches to put in a match-winning performance when it really matters.

On the way to the 2005 Champions League final, it was Steven Gerrard who rocketed a 35-yard strike into the Kop end net against Olympiacos in the dying stages to ensure we escaped the group stages.

You beauty! What a hit son, what a hit!
It was the number eight who then inspired the greatest comeback of all time in Istanbul, heading in Liverpool’s first, winning the penalty from which Alonso eventually netted our third and filling in at right back exquisitely to prevent the fresh legs of Serginho terrorising the Reds’ tired defence in extra time.

Only a year later, he performed so well in the 2006 FA Cup final versus West Ham that it was named after him.  It was his raking pass that set up Ciise to pull one back after the Merseysiders had fallen behind by two goals.  It was him who lashed a fierce drive home to level the score line ten minutes after the break. And it was Gerrard who somehow mustered the strength to fire an unbelievably good strike past Shaka Hislop from a remarkable 40 yards out to take the game to extra time at the point when most Kopites were resigned to defeat.

These are the memories that will live in the mind of this Kopite, who will be one of many to tell kids and grand-kids stories of Steven Gerrard swooping to save the day like Superman with an unerring regularity that you could almost set your watch to.

Steven Gerrard rescuing games from the jaws of defeat is a sight Liverpool supporters must treasure over the next few seasons as the 33-year old will unavoidably be forced to retire soon, and his influence over the team will, in all likelihood, diminish as well.

We saw last season the evolution of Gerrard from a player who would cover every blade of grass over the course of 90 minutes to a holding midfielder, putting in crunching tackles, breaking up play, pinging passes and setting up attacks from a deeper position. That wise tactical move, which begun under Benitez and was completed by Rodgers, enabled the skipper to miss only two Premier League fixtures, maximising Gerrard’s potential at a time in his career when he is more vulnerable to injuries.

When he eventually leaves that Anfield pitch for the final time there won’t be a dry eye in the stadium because, not only will they be witnessing the departure of the greatest ever Liverpool player, they will be waving goodbye to a footballer so loyal he dedicated his entire career to the local club he loved through thick and thin, spurning the temptations of hollow triumphs with rival clubs he had no affection for.

It will be a sad day when Gerrard says goodbye
We’ll be waving goodbye to a dying breed of footballer.


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