Wednesday 22 November 2017

Richie Sadlier: Steven Gerrard the pundit betrays Gerrard the captain

Steven Gerrard put his manager in a difficult position this week

Steven Gerrard: Good TV but staggeringly bad captaincy
Steven Gerrard: Good TV but staggeringly bad captaincy
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

I never once gave an interview as a player with the intention of impressing anyone. There wasn't any occasion where my main aim was to appear interesting or amusing or insightful.

When it came to speaking publicly while I was a player, my primary focus remained the same throughout my career: Never say anything that would grab the attention of anyone in the dressing room.

Steven Gerrard took a different approach on Thursday evening while working as a television pundit for ITV. He accused team-mate Mario Balotelli of disrespecting stand-in captain Jordan Henderson during Liverpool's 1-0 home win over Besiktas in the Europa League.

Balotelli had scored an 85th-minute penalty kick after a brief disagreement with Henderson and Daniel Sturridge about who should take it. Balotelli had taken the ball from Henderson's arms as he was about to take it himself. "Rules are rules," said Gerrard, before revealing Henderson had been given the job to take penalties prior to the game.

In itself, it's not a particularly controversial viewpoint. If a captain is seen to be over-ruled or ignored by a team-mate during a game, it could generally be regarded as disrespectful by the player involved. The role of a football captain doesn't have the same authority as it does in other sports but it does reflect the hierarchy within the squad. There would always be consequences for undermining or over-ruling him in anyway.

That Gerrard spoke so frankly about what he had seen made for good television. Only last week I wrote in this column about the plethora of former players working in the media unwilling to critically analyse the actions of people they personally knew. Here was someone speaking openly about something he was clearly unimpressed by, with little regard for protecting the reputations of the people he knew who were involved.

However, Gerrard wasn't just in the role of television pundit at Anfield on Thursday night. He is the current club captain of Liverpool. The responsibilities of that role never leave you. They don't change whether you're injured or playing. They don't lessen once you leave the training ground. They don't end if you've announced you're due to leave in the summer or you do some work in the media. Every public comment should be made with the captaincy in mind. Gerrard completely abandoned that obligation at Anfield last week.

Brendan Rodgers said nothing about the incident afterwards. He wouldn't be drawn on whether or not Henderson was the designated penalty taker. He has since dismissed the reporting of the story as "a drama", but the reality is it's a drama created by the captain of the club.

Henderson himself said nothing of any note about what happened. Speaking after the game, he mentioned Balotelli's level of confidence and said it was a great penalty. He played a captain's role by keeping his true feelings for those inside the dressing room. You'd have to assume he was far from happy with what had happened, but there's a time and a place for saying exactly what you think.

Gerrard decided that time and place was a television studio but he was wrong. I'm sure he won many admirers for speaking frankly about what he had seen while giving an insight into the workings of the dressing room. It's what the public want, after all. But his willingness to inform the viewers of ITV betrayed the demands of his captaincy and the respect he should have for his colleagues. It put both his manager and his vice-captain in an awkward position and put further focus on Balotelli and his actions.

We now know Brendan Rodgers makes decisions that are ignored. What insights does that give us about his management? We know Henderson was over-ruled when he tried to stick to the plan. What does that reveal about his suitability to inherit the role on a permanent basis after Gerrard departs? The eccentricities of Mario Balotelli are only part of this story. Gerrard's career at Liverpool is about to end, but he should wait until it does before breaking ranks with the dressing room.

What he said on Thursday would be very interesting and welcome six months from now if he were to find himself in the same position. Such openness would be unanimously welcomed then. The only positive in saying it now is that his credentials as an employable pundit have been enhanced. Obviously that shouldn't be even on the radar of the captain of Liverpool.

It was good television from Gerrard but staggeringly bad captaincy. Roy Keane ended his Manchester United career when he spoke critically about his team-mates on MUTV. Reports suggested his analysis was far more scathing than what Gerrard said last week but the same principles apply. You can't say certain things to the media if you're still playing. Honest punditry is usually unwelcome for those directly involved anyway, but they're the only audience that counts when you're still part of the squad. They're certainly the only constituents for the captain of the club.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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