Friday, 2 January 2015

Goodbye Gerrard: Liverpool's greatest ever player to leave

The day that every Kopite dreaded has finally come upon us. Steven Gerrard has announced that he will leave Liverpool when his contract expires at the end of the 2014/2015 season. The club will never be the same without him.

For many Reds, including me, Liverpool FC without Steven Gerrard is literally unthinkable. I started supporting the club in 1999 at the age of 5, only months after Gerrard made his Liverpool debut against Blackburn Rovers.

Ever since, Stevie has been central and essential to all things Liverpool, providing the club’s invaluable scouse heartbeat alongside fellow local lad Jamie Carragher during an astounding 17-year career. The pair will leave a gaping hole in the soul of Liverpool FC when the curtain finally comes down on Gerrard’s Liverpool career at the end of the season.

Gerrard celebrates one of his 180 Liverpool goals
Gerrard’s contribution to the club cannot be understated. Virtually single-handedly, he has prevented Liverpool spiralling into mediocrity. Often playing alongside teammates not fit to tie his boot laces, Gerrard rescued countless hopeless situations to secure improbable victory from the jaws of seemingly certain death.

Seen as the only one to turn to in times of desperation, Gerrard kept providing moments of magic when most needed even up until last month, when it was his perfect free kick with ten minutes remaining that sparked life into Liverpool’s performance against Basel and gave them hope of another historic Champions League comeback.

Unfortunately, on that occasion it wasn’t to be. Nonetheless, Steven Gerrard will always be remembered for what he did during another Champions League campaign, a decade ago in 2005.

The words of Evertonian Andy Gray- “Ohhhhh, you beauty! What a hit, son, what a hit!”-are forever etched into the memories of Kopites recollecting that unforgettable European night at Anfield against Olympiakos, when Gerrard secured the Reds’ progress to the knockout stages with arguably his best goal for the club.

Then, in the final itself, it was his header that began the turnaround, he was the man bursting into the box before being fouled for the penalty that led to the equaliser, and he was the only one with the legs to slog it out at right back against AC Milan’s sprightly substitute Serginho during half an hour of gruelling extra time. His man of the match performance was vital to Liverpool’s historic victory, and seeing him lift the Champions League will forever be the best moment of my Liverpool-supporting life.

The pinnacle of his career
Due to his agonising failure to win the Premier League, Istanbul will also undoubtedly be the pinnacle of his career. It was heart-breaking to see Stevie miss out on a Premier League winners’ medal last season. It was realistically his last chance to go out on top, and he was cruelly ultimately denied by an untimely slip against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, a slip that will forever haunt him.

Gerrard’s accomplishments far outweigh any disappointments he may have about his career, though. As well as being instrumental in the miracle of Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup Final was dubbed ‘The Gerrard Final’ after he scored two goals, one a worldie in the first minute of injury time, to inspire the Reds to a seemingly unlikely shootout victory against West Ham after it ended 3-3 after extra time. Moreover, he was an integral part of the team that won the treble in 2001, the year in which he established himself as a Liverpool regular, and he also made 114 appearances for England, captaining the national side 38 times.

The word ‘Legend’ simply does not do justice to the man who will go down in history as the best player to ever play for Liverpool, not only because of his footballing achievements, but also for laudable loyalty to his boyhood team. At the peak of his powers, Gerrard could have walked into any team in the world, but he decided to resist the allures of so-called ‘bigger’ clubs, believing that one medal won playing for the team he loves was worth more than countless medals racked up elsewhere.

Even now, his loyalty to Liverpool prevents him from moving to one of their rivals, instead opting to end his career overseas, most likely in America with LA Galaxy.  His spell away from Merseyside is sure to be short, however, as Gerrard has been informed that the door is always open for him to return to the club in a coaching capacity. Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houiller, who led the Reds to the treble in 2001, has even said that he sees Stevie sitting in the Anfield hot seat at some point in the future, a prospect that will whet the appetite of any Kopite.

In the meantime, Liverpool will find it impossible to replace Gerrard, and it would be foolhardy to even attempt to do so, as Manchester United’s hilarious attempt to replace Sir Alex Ferguson with David Moyes demonstrated last season. There will only ever be one Steven Gerrard, and it will be fruitless thrusting someone into the limelight as his direct replacement.

It will be a sad day when we finally see the back of Stevie
Instead, what Rodgers must do is get as much out of Gerrard as possible during the remainder of the season to ensure that he goes out on a high, hopefully helping the club to finish fourth and lifting some silverware.

Then, we might just be ready to contemplate coping without the man who has come to define the club for almost two decades.

Good luck Stevie. It’s been a privilege. You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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