His status as Captain Fantastic is assured, but do Liverpool's other players play better without him? Is it possible that the team is actually a stronger unit without Anfield's very own Roy of The Rovers?
Steven Gerrard has been the architect of a high-percentage of the moments that have made the goose bumps and mercury rise in unison and turned me into screaming lunatic. The Champions League final against AC Milan where he used the platform of Didi Hamann to almost single-handedly drag Liverpool back into the match, the 2006 FA Cup final where his winner turned me into a floor punching madman at a packed Belfry in Birmingham in front of a load of millionaire golfers and at least 50 other goals, tackles and unworldly deeds.
Yet for some reason, amongst all of this, I’ve had an itch to scratch for a while now. Are Liverpool a better team without Steven Gerrard?
I understand that it sounds ridiculous to even think it, but before you eviscerate me in capitals and exclamation marks below, have a think about it. I’ve spoken to other Liverpool supporters about this, some have agreed, some have said it’s nonsense and other have sat on the fence. I’m guilty myself of thinking all three depending which way the wind blows and whether one of his Hollywood passes ends up in the Anny Road or at the feet of a striker. No player in my adulthood has done more to drag an often average Liverpool team kicking and screaming from the pits of poor football to winning games. He has been the heart, lungs, voice and studs of Liverpool for so long now that to imagine Liverpool without him and also Jamie Carragher is nigh-on impossible.
Steven Gerrard is a fantastic footballer, still on his day a man capable of winning games on his own, besting anyone Barca, United or Real Madrid place in front of him and forcing the hairs on my neck into a footballing version of prickly heat, and his status as one of, if not the, greatest footballer Liverpool have ever had is assured.
So what, you may ask, am I banging on about? I’ll explain.
Steven Gerrard is a legend in his own lunchtime. Every academy player, foreign signing, kit man and tea lady look up to him, they want to impress him, they want him to think they are good at their jobs. As far as a cuppa goes, this is a good thing, no-one wants weak tea in the morning, but his status and inclusion in the team can, at times, have a negative effect on the players around him. In the first instance they try too hard, players like Lucas, Meireles and even Spearing play better when Gerrard is not around. They focus more on their jobs and less on trying to get in the captain’s good books with ill-adjudged flicks and glamour balls.
Liverpool have an icon in charge and and an icon with the captains armband, the challenge is of course if they can become a symbiotic unit in the mould of Keane and Ferguson and lift others around them to glory rather than turn them into shrinking violets.
In the second instance Gerrard, as the icon, demands the ball. He is a living, breathing, Roy of the Rovers, he has dragged Liverpool out of the mire on so many occasions that his mindset has had to be that of ‘give it to me and I’ll do the rest.’ This was fine with say Maradona at Napoli, Diego is a once in a lifetime player who could do the lot and also played in a more advanced position. When Gerrard plays in a central midfield position, which he will now surely have to with Suarez, Carroll and hopefully a couple more attacking players coming in, his barnstorming nature and occasional tactical naiveties affect the shape of the team. It is no surprise that when Liverpool finished second to Manchester United in 2008-09 Gerrard played off Torres and ahead of the perfect pairing of Alosno and Mascherano, a Quaterback and a destroyer who gave the team a perfect balance.
The third part of this conundrum is potentially a very positive one; can Liverpool be a better team with Steven Gerrard in it? Can Kenny Dalglish change Gerrard’s perception of himself as a marauding one-man army and turn him into a stoic general. Can the king convince his prince that he doesn’t need to build the team around him, but instead make him a glittering and essential component of a team that can grow with him and beyond his eventual retirement?
Gerrard has said that he fells fitter than he has done for years following the groin surgery he underwent and that, in principal, bodes well for Liverpool. The stickability and trickery of Luis Suarez adds a breadth to Liverpool’s play that we have missed, Andy Carrolll is adept at bringing others into the game – Kevin Nolan, a very destitute tramp’s Gerrard, scored most of his goals off Carroll’s knockdowns – and could ask for no better player to knock balls down to in shooting range, Lucas has grown into a player capable of filling Mascherano’s size fives and the addition of genuine width should give Gerrard a lot more to aim at with his cross-field passing.
In principal, the addition of two or three more genuine international class players should also take the pressure off Gerrard and allow him to focus on his strengths. Liverpool have an icon in charge and and an icon with the captains armband, the challenge is of course if they can become a symbiotic unit in the mould of Keane and Ferguson and lift others around them to glory rather than turn them into shrinking violets.
So have Liverpool been a better team without Steven Gerrard? Yes. Can they a better team with him? Yes again. I can’t wait to find out what happens. Six weeks and counting.
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