Alan Smith: We will never see another player like Steven Gerrard
Seven hundred and eight down, only two to go. Even Stamford Bridge succumbed to a standing ovation when Steven Gerrard was substituted with 10 minutes left against Chelsea on Sunday.
Yes, we are talking here about a very special player whatever your colours or allegiances.
Brendan Rodgers must wonder how on earth it came to pass that Liverpool allowed this legend to leave. But the leaving Gerrard is to be replaced by... well, that’s the thing.
It may be a cliché but they do not seem to make players like Gerrard any more, a marauding midfielder who could, at his best, totally boss matches with his energy, determination and outrageous talent.
Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira – there have, of course, been similar sorts in recent decades. But where Gerrard differs markedly is in his upbringing.
As a home-grown product, as a Liverpool lad, this is the local boy‑made-good who turned into Roy of the Rovers, or the Whiston Wonder to be more accurate.
Oh, to have played with Gerrard in his pomp. As a centre forward, it would have been a dream to profit from those famous passes, whether a raking 40-yarder arrowed into the box or a subtle slip down the channel to catch your marker off guard. Once on the same wavelength, as Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez memorably were for a time, a striker’s goalscoring opportunities inevitably stack up.
As if to confirm this passing of time, when a newborn provides contrast to the dying of the light, another midfielder made his full debut on Sunday in the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
At 19, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is not only 15 years younger than his counterpart, he also looks like a different sort of player, a little more restrained in his general movement.
Mind you, if Gerrard had ever actually got to play for Jose Mourinho, his natural style may have been curbed, changed from the rampaging figure Rafael Benítez did not trust to hold a position in central midfield.
If you remember, it was Gerrard’s enthusiasm, his hunger for the ball, that caused some controversy under Benítez.
It was that same dynamism that made Gerrard so special, however, helping him to score so many glorious goals.
The latest, Gerrard’s 185th in Liverpool colours, came at the far post to level the scores. Nothing exceptional about the header, apart from an ability to quickly anticipate the flight of the ball.
Nothing untoward, either, in his post-match words. The competitive edge remained in lamenting a failure to qualify for the Champions League. He was leaving a club with it all to do, a club that will be poorer for his absence.
An emotional player ruled by his heart when it came to deciding his career path, Gerrard’s innate humility has never waned in the face of widespread admiration and, at Anfield at least, total adulation.
The eulogies, of course, will hit a peak on Saturday when those fans wave goodbye to their favourite son. The following week, the curtain falls for good at the Britannia Stadium.
They say that a trip to Stoke represents the acid test of any man’s resolve. Well, Gerrard’s backbone, as well as his talent, was emphatically confirmed many moons ago. It may be some time before we see his like again.