Sunday 18 March 2018

Adoration turns to fear for future in Gerrard's flat Anfield farewell

Liverpool 1-3 C Palace

Steven Gerrard tussles with Martin Kelly during his final game at Anfield
Steven Gerrard tussles with Martin Kelly during his final game at Anfield
Liverpool players wear Steven Gerrard shirts after the game as they wait for him to be presented to the crowd

Chris Bascombe

It was rather like a farewell party where the band had not turned up, the beer had run out after 15 minutes, and the guests had no option but to generate their own entertainment.

The poignancy and sincerity of the send-off Steven Gerrard was granted by Liverpool supporters was worthy of the occasion, but as the captain made his last, weary exit through the early evening drift of Anfield, the adoration surrendered to fear.

The Kop was witnessing more than the departure of a formidable talent. With Gerrard gone, Liverpool finds itself in urgent need of another spiritual leader.

The club's ability to ease out one legend while the next waited patiently on the touchline used to be habitual.

From Bill Shankly and the seamless transition to Bob Paisley; Kevin Keegan moving on only to have Kenny Dalglish claim his shirt; Ian Rush saying 'arriverderci' as John Aldridge said 'alright', armed with the same moustache and eye for goal.

Even during the last 25 years without a title, as the greats left and the trend of world-class managerial appointments was compromised, there was still always a Robbie Fowler, a Michael Owen or Luis Suarez to keep the hope industry in business.

Saturday felt different - depressingly and worryingly different. There is no obvious recovery position. The insipid performance against Crystal Palace was emblematic of a deteriorating team that face further decline unless endemic failures in transfer strategy over the past five summers (some might argue 25 years) are reversed within the space of five weeks.

These are dangerous times at Anfield. Usually a season ends with a demand for the club to buy one or two players to mount a title challenge, or at least push for the top four. Now they have not only lost the most influential player of his generation, but a source of reassurance. If Liverpool's recruitment malfunctions again this summer the downward spiral will glue the club below the top four.

Rather than sending out season ticket renewal forms a month before the end of a campaign - an arrogant and presumptive policy change of the past couple of years - they will be finding more are unwilling to commit so much with the promise of so little. Not good when you need to fill a new Main Stand by luring corporate clients from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Liverpool's natural modern rival looks increasingly like Tottenham Hotspur.

The lack of faith in those entrusted to repair the damage culminated in The Kop laughing when Gerrard was asked pitchside moments after this 3-1 defeat if he thought he was leaving the club in a healthy position.

Brendan Rodgers is a visible target of blame for this, of course, but some of the criticism of him is discredited by a combination of fingers in ears witlessness and social media screeching, presuming a change of manager will alter anything in the broader decision-making process.

Rodgers showed last year that if you sprinkle enough gold dust on an otherwise unspectacular group of players he is capable of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. He has probably got a year left to repeat the trick and fix the damage of this season, but getting rid of him now would do nothing more than lead to another three-year plan under someone else. Too many now see replacing a manager as akin to getting a new car, something to be changed because you want what is in fashion.

In successive seasons Rodgers has lost Jamie Carragher, Luis Suarez (with the chronically injured Daniel Sturridge) and now Gerrard. That is not just the heart and soul of the side but its spine. You think Jurgen Klopp would do better losing that array of talent? Fine, but you have not paid much attention to the Bundesliga since Bayern Munich pillaged the Borussia Dortmund squad.

What is inexcusable is the lack of foresight preparing for these inevitable exits, those signed as replacements proving woefully inadequate thus far.

The failure to use the £75million from Suarez's sale correctly is an act corporate vandalism.

Never mind Gerrard, it is hard to offer a convincing argument those currently in control of the transfer budget will sufficiently replace reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones, and it seems their answer to the centre-half deficiencies so evident on Saturday is to offer Kolo Toure a one-year contract extension.

We should not overlook Palace's performance, which was exceptionally good, ensuring the hangover preceded the leaving speech.

Alan Pardew continues to expose the folly of those who downgraded him at Newcastle United, or anyone who thinks Neil Warnock should be let loose anywhere near a Premier League club.

No sooner had Glenn Murray deservedly secured the points with his late penalty (on the rebound), the chants honouring Gerrard overwhelmed the sense of embarrassment at the home performance. The fitting finale followed the game.

On the pitch, there is realisation that Gerrard's capacity to save Liverpool from such defeats has waned. Off it, only the most optimistic believe he's engaged in his last Anfield rescue act. If those left to protect the club's status are not up to the job, Gerrard's return in 18 months will see him cast in the familiar role of saviour.

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