For what seems like forever, Steven Gerrard has been thrown on the back of newspaper after newspaper and portrayed to the country like some sort of superhero rescuing the team from a poor performance, like some sort of damsel in distress. Just when the team are down and out, our knight in shining armour would swoop in faster than a speeding bullet to save the day and single-handedly defeat the opposition before flying off to international duty to try and save the whole country.
Captain Fantastic they call him. Even those photos of his trophy room in his home look like some sort of secret hideout. The truth is though, for the most part, they’ve been right. After all if the performances he has put in down the years, you’d barely begrudge him sewing an ‘S’ on to the front of his shirt and wearing a cape.
However, it is fair to say that this sort of talk has died down over the past couple of seasons. Even the ever-powerful Gerrard has come under criticism of late with our own fans blaming him for not picking up more points in certain fixtures this season. With great power, comes great responsibility – responsibility to inspire the team when the going gets tough. The Liverpool faithful expect more than an invisibility trick when we come up against the likes of Arsenal at the Emirates.
Let’s take the Merseyside Derby as an example. Every year we get a good result, he is described as the difference. Yet to some at Goodison this weekend he took the role of some sort of bumbling, mile-mannered centre mid. He could possibly be blamed for some of the goals conceded, but besides that his general performance was distinctly average, nothing more, nothing less. At time he was caught in possession easily, or was arriving late in a couple of challenges and misplacing some straight forward passing – the latter for me being the most frustrating. In my head I keep replaying that utterly bizarre free kick in the middle of the park, that he some how pinged to the right side to absolutely nobody, about 20 yards ahead of the out-of-sorts Glen Johnson and straight out of play. He then followed that up with a moan to Johnson that he should have been further up the pitch, but I think a quick apology would have been more appropriate.
So the question is, has his time come? At 33, his legs aren’t what they used to be. He can’t be that box-to-box power force he was 5 or 6 years ago. With Philippe Coutinho working his magic behind a prolific striking duo and the likes of Jordan Henderson finally getting a proper place in the team and showing signs of his potential, is it time for us to start preparing for life after Gerrard? Should we really start phasing him out? Can we finally admit that our ever-reliant Super Stevie has lost his powers and just rely on the SAS partnership to take us forward?
In a word, no.
The thing with Steven Gerrard is that like every hero on the big screen or in a book, he is never down and out. He’ll still be the one to come to the rescue time and again. And put simply, he is still by far our best midfielder. Sure he can’t be expected to score 15 or so league goals a season anymore, but the truth is he barely ever has. In fact, he’s only ever scored more than 15 goals in the league once (16 in 2008-09) and only ever scored more than ten league goals in three season throughout his whole career. Frank Lampard on the other hand has broken the ten goal barrier for the last ten consecutive seasons. Would you swap Gerrard for Lampard? I certainly wouldn’t.
Even though he currently sits top of the assists table with five, it’s not about the goals or assists really. Even without getting a goal or an assist he can still win us games. As frustrating as he can be at times, he still lives and breathes the club through and through and his sheer presence and reputation, he inspires other players around him. He sets the bar not just with his performances in each game, but with his overall stature as a world class professional and (despite certain views) a top, top player. The truth is he’d probably still walk into almost any team in the world.
Going back to the Derby, while he could be blamed for a couple of the goals, so could several other players. And he actually had a big part to play in two of our goals. I don’t think there’s another player in the squad who could have put as good a ball in for Sturridge’s equaliser – and without it Everton go equal on points with us. It is important to remember too that a draw at Goodison against a very strong Everton team is not that bad a result, and sitting second in the league approaching December is downright fantastic following the past few seasons. Everybody at the club has had a part to play in sitting where we are so far – including our Captain Fantastic. I’d say he is still doing a very good job.
There will come a time when he chooses to hang up his boots, but in the meantime he still has a very big part to play in getting the team back up to the standard everybody expects. He no longer needs to ‘carry’ the team, nor does he need to get every goal or assist. His days of being our one and only savior are in the past. However, we will have a much better chance of finishing in the top 4 with Steven Gerrard than without.
So while he’s not the same player that he was years ago, he’s still one we need right now.
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