Rodgers Is Doing Liverpool A Disservice By Ignoring Gerrard's Decline
There are few sadder sights in football than seeing a once great player admirably attempting to prolong his career, while fighting a losing battle against the forces of time and nature. It's a stage faced by the good and awful alike but for top players, whose whole careers are played out in front of millions, it appears a battle resisted for as long as possible. This is hardly surprising. Who wouldn't want to prolong a successful career? Who wouldn't want to keep doing what they love, even if they're body is telling them to stop? It's natural, whether it be due to pride or merely fear of retirement and the unknown, to try to get the best out of your abilities for as long as humanly possible.
But there comes a point in the career of every world class player when he must look at himself and ask if what he's doing is really for the best. Not only for himself but for the side he represents. Some players are honest enough to recognise when they should hang up their boots. Gary Neville is the perfect example. You'd be hard pushed to find anyone who cared more about United during their career, or who gave more for the cause. This was exemplified by his decision to retire when he did. That particular decision came during a game away to West Brom but the seeds had been planted months before during a game with Stoke. Neville, despite his heart willing him to play on, simply knew he couldn't do the job to the standard he himself had set. He knew his time was up and rather than jeopardise his side's chances further, he bowed out gracefully and unselfishly.
Some players, however, find it more difficult to accept their new found limitations. One such player is Steven Gerrard. For as long as I can remember Gerrard has been the heart and soul of the Liverpool team. As a United fan, I'm not his biggest cheerleader but I can recognise what he's done for the club. There's been countless goals from distance and penalties tucked away nervelessly in the final minutes. He's always been there when his side have needed him. Until recently that is. Gerrard and Liverpool fans alike speak much about the player's loyalty. About how he's a one-club man who bleeds red. Don't we all. Legends of his loyalty are overstated to put it lightly but he's stayed at the club for his entire career and that must be commended, whether it was his intention or not. Gerrard, despite all his flaws, has always been a fighter for Liverpool. His emotional reaction to matches and events is well-known, but he's always given everything he could for his side. Sadly for Gerrard, that simply isn't enough anymore.
Once the fulcrum of all that was good in Liverpool's play, he's become not a passenger, worse, he's become a liability. Remodelled as a defensive midfielder by a manager just as desperate for him to play as Gerrard himself, he finds himself in a tricky position. He no longer has the legs to provide the gut-busting late runs to the edge of the box, nor does he possess the natural ability to fulfil his current role effectively. It would be unfair though to lay the blame with the player. As I've alluded to, accepting your playing days are numbered is exceptionally difficult for a player. Gary Neville did it but had he not, don't doubt for a second that Sir Alex would've made the decision for him not long after. Gerrard looks unlikely to take the same route, so it's time for Brendan Rodgers to step in and make the decision for him.
To be fair to Rodgers, this will be his toughest decision as Liverpool manager, one that many fans may not accept, but it's one that needs to be taken. He's an intelligent (if slightly full of shit) manager who knows his team and deep down he must know that Gerrard is holding his side back. Especially in the post-Luis Suarez era, the manager must look to the future with regards to the development of his side. That's not to say there isn't a place for Gerrard at the club. Of course there is, but that place should be as a substitute, providing an experienced head when it's necessary. That place should not be as his side's defensive midfielder. Gerrard, as good a player as he was in his day, lacks the discipline and awareness to properly execute the role. He's too easily drawn into his own personal voyages mid-match and as such loses sight of the team's overall objective. He also lacks the natural positional awareness of a player in his position, which has led to Gerrard-sized holes in Liverpool's midfield.
Prior to their signing of Adam Lallana from Southampton, I stressed Liverpool's need for a defensive midfield enforcer-type, in the mould of Lallana's former team mate Morgan Schneiderlin. Someone who is patient and happy to sit back, perhaps away from the sexy action, but ready at a second's notice to step in and shore things up. Perhaps it's due to his history of playing higher up the field but Gerrard seems unable to do this. He's too often attracted to the action, as well as going for that Hollywood pass or shot from forty yards. As a result, Liverpool have become easy to penetrate.
The risk this poses was perhaps hidden during Luis Suarez' high scoring days at the club. No matter how fragile the side looked, and they looked exceedingly fragile at times, the Uruguayan was at hand to deliver the goods. What's become even clearer without the striker is how much other players relied upon him too. His importance to Liverpool was not just in his own goals but the shape the team took with him in the side. He was the centre-piece for all that was exciting about the team and the other players fed off that, emotionally and on the pitch. There was a clear attacking philosophy and it worked well for them. Since his departure to Barcelona, Liverpool are nowhere near the attacking threat they were last season, and this has brought greater scrutiny upon Gerrard and his role in the team.
What he offers (or doesn't, in this case) cannot be swept under the carpet by goals. Instead, it must be addressed. Liverpool will not score as many goals this season. They can however shore up their midfield and defence to counter this. Perhaps the first part of that should be dropping Gerrard. He's holding his side back and it's clearer now than ever. If Brendan Rodgers is serious about taking this Liverpool team far, he has to make some difficult decisions. Dropping Gerrard should be his first one, for the sake of the player and the team.