Tuesday 12 November 2019

Liverpool skipper's show of force and spirit is a declaration of defiance

Steven Gerrard was at the centre of all that was good about Liverpool's performance against Wimbledon.
Steven Gerrard was at the centre of all that was good about Liverpool's performance against Wimbledon.

James Lawton

No-one expected Steven Gerrard to go gently into the fading light of his Premier League career but, even so, laying one hand on the FA Cup in the year the final is to be played on his 35th birthday is a statement of defiance remarkable even by his own heroic standards.

Maybe it's true AFC Wimbledon of League Two were victims of modest status when this week Gerrard continued to unfurl his determination to end his astonishing contribution to the affairs of club he joined as an eight-year-old with a roll of drums rather than whimpers of regret.

Yet as statements of will go, as an mark of what Liverpool's almost time-expired captain believes he can still achieve, it surely carried the stunning force of true emotion.

Yes, emotion, desire, these are the qualities that have long endeared him to arguably football's most passionate audience, and the fact that he has scored the club's last four goals hard on the confirmation that he will leave for America at the end of the season triggers a stream of memory.

FORCE

Not, it probably should be said, of seamless tactical mastery and ultimate insight, but a consistent force of commitment and always the capacity to change a game in one moment of superb force, physical and moral.

Steven Gerrard will be heading to America when he leaves Liverpool this summer
Steven Gerrard will be heading to America when he leaves Liverpool this summer

You didn't have to agree with every phrase of his manager Brendan Rodgers' tribute this week to agree with the essential point.

Gerrard, in the last reach of his career, remains a wonder of spirit and invention. In an age of vast reward and sometimes questionable appetite for the most serious action, he wears his heart not on his sleeve but his sinew. No doubt the time is right for him to stretch out his last playing days in the less demanding clime of the Major Soccer League, but while he is here there is the certainty of a presence still burning to be relevant.

His manager Rodgers has plainly been as drained by the dilemma of presiding over the last season of his club's still most influential player as the desperate need to reboot a team stricken by the departure of the genius of Luis Suarez, but in the last few days he could not have asked for more from his captain.

His gratitude poured in the wake of Gerrard's refusal to entertain the idea of another hammer blow to the fragile confidence that re-surfaced, in the fluent victory over Swansea. Gerrard rode the bench on that occasion but, we have seen plainly enough, in no mood of abdication.

Thus the gush of a grateful manager in south-west London. Said Rodgers: "He was outstanding in a brilliant performance. He scored two goals and if he was a selfish player he might have stayed on the ball and got his hat-trick, instead of trying to create chances for other people.

"I've played him in a number of positions in my time because he's an incredible individual player. His intelligence, his football brain is second to none. I've used him for 18 months as playmaker, starting the game from behind when we've had other players up the top. I played him at the top of the midfield box tonight and you could see his brightness and his creativity."

What we saw most clearly, of course, was that determination to inflict himself at every point of a game. His own game, for all the more fanciful praise, has always depended on his ability to cover the ground and now that such a capacity inevitably carries questions on a game-by-game basis, Rodgers has the challenge of gleaning the last of his resources.

Plainly, they can still amount to a formidable force in the second half of a most challenging season.

At the end of it is maybe not too romantic, well not utterly, to imagine that Gerrard may just have fashioned for himself a place in the old showpiece climax of the English domestic season.

It would certainly place him back in that dreamland he occupied in Istanbul 10 years ago when he greeted the dawn with a European title medal dangling from his neck. There was reason to believe then that it would be the first of many such triumphs but if Gerrard has found the supreme prizes of the game elusive since that extraordinary eruption of passion and hope he has never been less than faithful to the roots of his ambition. Here now he promises still more definition of this extraordinary quality. It is a remarkable commitment and makes utterly secure his place in the tradition of a great football club.

For Rodgers still another challenge is to find someone even remotely as influential to the ethos of his game. How big a question mark it is against his chances of finding safer, more encouraging, water has only been underlined this week.

Deciding where Gerrard sits in the hierarchy of great Liverpool players is probably the work of another day, and when it is undertaken the claims of players like Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish will of course demand their due weight. In the meantime, however, Steven Gerrard continues to extend the mark he has made on the history of his club.

His achievement, we have been reminded, is to brilliantly maintain the encouraging idea that Liverpool have consistently enjoyed the force of a player who has never ceased to care about what he is doing, and for whom he is doing it.

Irish Independent

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