The celebration of Steven Gerrard’s career will be a main area of focus over the player’s final weeks as a Liverpool player. However, for many, Steven Gerrard is exiting his career in Europe as a figure of tragedy. While Liverpool fans and Gerrard backers will point to his trophy haul and one May 2005 night in Istanbul, the truth is more often than not Gerrard has been the nearly man.
The most visible recent signs of this tragic figure have come in the last twelve months. First, the April 2014 slip against Chelsea at Anfield that for all intents and purposes handed the Premier League title to Manchester City. Then on Sunday, arguably the most rash and hot-headed challenge of Gerrard’s career on Ander Herrera that saw the Reds skipper sent off just 41 seconds after entering the fray against Liverpool’s greatest rivals, Manchester United.
It is the type of indiscipline one would expect from a 20-year-old making their debut in a big match. In 2011, when Jack Rodwell was sent off in a Merseyside Derby for a challenge the match commentators discussed the age of the young Evertonian who was also an England international and the rush of blood that comes from inexperience and wanting to impress on a bigger stage. Rodwell’s red card was actually rescinded by the FA days later, but Gerrard’s will not be and thus his farewell from Liverpool will be contracted by at least three matches.
Through the years, Gerrard’s brilliance in the Merseyside Derby against Everton was not often replicated against great rivals Manchester United. With the very notable exception of a match in March 2009, where the Reds stayed in the title race against the favored Red Devils with an improbable 4-1 victory, Gerrard’s contributions were overshadowed in England’s biggest top-flight rivalry. All too often headlines following the biggest matches of the season were filled with discussion of Ryan Giggs brilliance, or Paul Scholes control of the midfield.
Gerrard’s loyalty to Liverpool, which was one of his two boyhood clubs (Everton being the other), is laudable but many wonder what would have happened with his career trajectory had he joined Chelsea when he had the chance during Jose Mourinho’s first stint as Manager at Stamford Bridge. Would Gerrard have become one of the most decorated players in English football or simply a supporting player on a team with a strong core and identity already?
The Three Lions career of the Liverpool man was also tinged with disappointment. Despite captaining England in three major international competitions, Gerrard never stood out in the role and the national team usually underwhelmed. While his commitment was never questioned, perhaps he did not provide the talismanic leadership required for a nation that always seems to underachieve on the biggest stages.
Despite the incredible array of footballing gifts Steven Gerrard possesses, a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment characterizes the end of his playing career in England. More often than not, Gerrard was on the losing side of big games against rivals and top opposition. So often the brilliance we would see from him in the majority of contests eluded him at the most critical moments while the rashness and emotion of his character never left him. Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup Final and numerous Merseyside Derbies will always be at moments Gerrard’s Liverpool legacy is built on. But as the player moves on to Major League Soccer, it feels like his career could have been so much more.
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