Once upon a time, Steven Gerrard, that unbending symbol of Scouse excellence, appeared destined to complete his playing career on the adoring Anfield stage. In the world of football, with its flexible loyalty and ruthless sense of expediency, the sight of one professional remaining a fixture at a leading European club is increasingly rare.
That Gerrard has endured, his place in the Liverpool midfield rarely in question, over the course of 17 years and 500 games is a testament to the former England captain’s sustained and singular brilliance. Liverpool have regularly called on his soaring abilities, resistant to the approaches of various suitors throughout the years for the simple reason that no compensation could replace this icon within the hallowed surroundings of an institution where emotion is as intrinsic as the colour red.
Unlike older contemporaries such as Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, and fellow Liverpudlian Jamie Carragher — one-team stalwarts intertwined with the fabric of the North West’s biggest rivalry — Gerrard’s sporting story remains uncapped, unwritten. His epilogue has suddenly taken on an surprising shape.
The announcement last Saturday that Gerrard, an impending free agent, would look for alternative employment at the end of this season was genuinely startling. At 34, plagued by few niggling ailments, he clearly feels no compulsion to wind up an impressive tenure in the game. Gerrard continues to play at a fairly high level, one of the more consistent performers in a side robbed of the verve that almost propelled it to an overdue title win last year. Indeed, four goals in two games this week — including the typically wonderful free kick and forceful header that dumped AFC Wimbledon out of the FA Cup — speak to his offering peerless leadership still, whatever the opposition.
In truth, when Gerrard confirmed rumours about LA Galaxy providing a new home, one could not be blamed for experiencing a twinge of regret. Retiring to the relatively undemanding environs of Major League Soccer is, of course, hardly unusual for footballers who made their bones in the Premier League. A particularly topical example is Manchester City loanee Frank Lampard, recently unwanted by Chelsea. He will play for New York City FC before 2015 is over.
Gerrard’s case, however, seems particularly disappointing for he forged an identity uniquely in step with all the positive stereotypes of English football. Fast and aggressive, driven by a fiery will to win, he famously woke Didi Hamann’s ancestors with an enthusiastic tackle as a 20-year-old upstart at Euro 2000. This pugnacious kid from Whiston went from injury-prone teenage phenom to the corporeal representation of the club, an all-action child of the Kop who understands, on a visceral level, the importance of a spectacular last-gasp goal or thrilling comeback.
At the centre of every modern Liverpool triumph, Gerrard now seeks adventure across the Atlantic, a strangely cosy swan song for an individual never previously settling for the easy option. He insists that this move is anything but a working holiday to see him into his dotage; success is the priority. Yet, given his gilded resumé and the rarefied air he is used to breathing, it might pick at the edges of believability to imagine him craving an MLS title before hanging up the boots. Unknown personal circumstances notwithstanding, he surely cannot need the money either, thanks to a bountiful period at the sport’s top table.
That said, for a fit and healthy man wielding a desire to play on, even if Brendan Rodgers cannot see him in the future plans on Merseyside, Gerrard’s Los Angeles sojourn signifies a pleasant diversion. Gerrard may not exactly scream Californian glitz but the Galaxy can expect to benefit from his flinty Northern attributes. This is no Beckhamesque signing designed purely to bump up the profile of American soccer. With all due respect to Beckham, an superb player in his own right, Gerrard’s sole intention is to win trophies and he will bring his considerable gifts to bear in pursuing them. Any glamour attaching to him stems from his performances on the pitch alone.
The pity in all this, arguably, is the reality that Gerrard will depart English shores minus the league championship that he craves. But for a stumble that must haunt him, Liverpool’s talisman might count such a medal amongst his impressive collection. That is not to be. Perhaps America can make up the deficit.