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Leaving Liverpool could be the making of Steven Gerrard

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Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

PA

Steven Gerrard

If Steven Gerrard wishes to make a clean break with Liverpool, wind down his career in America and escape the unremitting attention that follows his every move on Merseyside then that is all perfectly understandable. The slightly weird thing about the New Year news is that is more or less what Frank Lampard was aiming for, too, yet the exact opposite has happened to the former Chelsea midfielder, who could easily add another title to his portfolio with Manchester City and is even exploring the possibility of staying on this side of the Atlantic until next season.

Never mind for now about what New York City supporters think of that development. The point is that Lampard is two years older than Gerrard and still very much in demand, not just as a figurehead in MLS, but as an invaluable points earner ­­- witness his important cameo against Sunderland on New Year's Day just as his old club was showing hitherto unsuspected vulnerability at White Hart Lane ­- for a team very much involved in the chase for major honours.

It has been suggested that Gerrard plays a higher tempo game than Lampard, covers more of the pitch and is finding it hard, at 34, to transform games as he once did by imposing himself on proceedings.

There might be some truth in that theory, but there is not that much difference in the two players and neither is it the case that Gerrard cannot adapt his game as he grows older. He started to do that in the second half of last season and, given Liverpool's form and results right up until the fateful slip against Chelsea, few could complain about the way things went. It is easier to believe that Gerrard was finding it difficult to sit out games at Liverpool or be used as a substitute.

Every player must accept that age takes its toll and that managers will inevitably put more trust in young legs rather than old ones, but it is never the easiest transition for one-club players who have become icons within their team and sporting community.

In a sense, Chelsea made Lampard's life easier for him by moving him out after 13 years. He was able to look around and see what was available, even if that meant accepting a bit-part at Manchester City. It was always going to be difficult for Gerrard to become a bit-part player at Anfield and neither would he have relished discovering, as he would have had he visited any internet chat rooms this season, that a section of Liverpool's support believes Brendan Rodgers selects more dynamic teams when the captain is not involved.

Yet these are issues every footballing great has to confront. Only gunslingers in westerns know better than sportsmen that no one stays on top forever. The trick is to try and turn a parting into a positive and that seems to be what Gerrard is attempting.

Obviously, he could have stayed at Liverpool, the club had offered him a new contract, but those arguing Rodgers should have done everything possible not only to tie Gerrard down, but to introduce him gradually to coaching responsibilities, may be missing an important point. If Gerrard is going to go into coaching or management, once he finishes playing, it will serve him well to have experience of an environment other than Liverpool.

It is some achievement breaking into your home club's first team at the age of 18 and staying there for more than 15 years, but it does not necessarily teach you all you need to know about football and footballers. Gerrard would make a better future manager, one feels, by broadening his experience.

That is for the future, however. Gerrard is astutely concentrating on the present at the moment, determined to prolong his playing career as long as possible so as not to have any regrets in retirement, which leaves everyone else to reflect on the past. Quite obviously, Gerrard is going to have one major regret in retirement, unless Chelsea or Manchester City persuade him to abandon American dreams and enjoy a coda to his career as unexpected as Lampard's - and that is the one that has been bugging him since Alex Ferguson began knocking Liverpool off their perch.

Rival fans routinely taunt him about it, though the fact that no one has seen Gerrard win the league should not detract from evaluation of one of the greatest of English careers. The list of achievements speaks for itself, as does 114 England caps and the heroic performances in Istanbul in 2005 and Cardiff a year later, but what Gerrard deserves to be remembered for most is his inspirational quality. Few English footballers have brought the same force of personality to bear, the same ability to influence outcomes by projecting steely determination allied to prodigious personal example. It is hardly his fault his career coincided with that of a Manchester United manager with exactly the same qualities.

In that respect, Gerrard could be considered unlucky. He could have changed his luck by joining Chelsea and he will also be remembered, on Merseyside even revered, for not doing so. Should he ever come to regret that decision, he would be better off not admitting it. It does not quite fit with the legend and besides, most people agreed with his reasoning. Even modern football can be pleasingly old-fashioned sometimes. Steven Gerrard is Liverpool. Chelsea just would not have felt right.

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport