“This does not slip”
The irony of Steven Gerrard’s impassioned words was almost unbearable as Liverpool’s inspirational leader stumbled inside his own half, allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to slot home and derail the Red’s title charge of 2014.
As the now 36 year-old calls an end to his playing career, it’s a sad fact that for most football fans, this unfortunate slip is the midfielder’s lasting legacy. It seemed as though it was destined for Steven Gerrard to finally lift that elusive Premier League trophy that season, but fate played a nasty trick on Mr. Liverpool. Mark Lawrenson today described Gerrard as Liverpool’s “second best player” of all time, a cruel, but fitting way to analyse a career defined by that near-miss of 2014.
Undeniably, Gerrard’s career was a glittering one, the like of which we all dream of – as Gerrard himself dreamt of growing up in Huyton. He won nearly all the game has to offer, even if a league title did evade capture. The Champions League campaign of 2005, and the subsequent ‘miracle of Istanbul’, in which Gerrard was the driving force, was the midfielder’s coming of age. The FA Cup final of 2006, christened by many as ‘the Gerrard final’ confirmed his place among football’s elite. Gerrard was, simply put, a brilliant footballer.
However, after those two highs in the space of a year, Gerrard was left with a reputation and level of expectation that was impossible to live up to at Liverpool. Twice he was tempted by Chelsea, England’s rising force at the time, to seek the trophies and accolades a player of his quality warranted. The logical career path would have been to move on, to consolidate his place among the greats of the game by backing up talent with titles. Twice, however, his love of Liverpool proved too strong to leave.
Indeed, Gerrard’s insatiable appetite for that Premier League title may well have proved his, and Liverpool’s, downfall in 2014. The impassioned, frenzied speech delivered by Gerrard to his teammates after the 3-2 defeat of Man City in April 2014 was as much crazed as it was inspired. Behind those bulging, determined eyes, and behind that spittle-hurling mouth was a man so desperate for success that he could hardly contain himself now that it loomed so close. Liverpool were victims of their own success in 2014, convinced that the inspired, free-flowing football that had served them so well that season would see them past Mourinho’s Chelsea, that destiny would carry them over the line.
However, as Gerrard’s feet slipped on the Anfield turf that afternoon, so too did his Liverpool career begin an irreversible slide. The following season, Gerrard’s last at Anfield, was a far cry from the kind of glittering climax his Liverpool career deserved. His red card against Manchester United at Anfield, having been on the pitch for only 38 seconds, was not the ‘send-off’ he had envisaged. Indeed, his final Liverpool appearance was one of the club’s darkest days, a 6-1 defeat to Stoke City. Gerrard did score that day, and that single goal is a microcosm of his whole career – a brief joy, a moment of inspiration, amongst the many disappointments and near-misses.
But what if Gerrard hadn’t slipped that on that April afternoon? What if he had held aloft the Premier League trophy which had eluded his grasp for so many years? Undoubtedly, it would have been the fulfilment of Gerrard’s career, the justification of his decision to stay at Liverpool and reject both the money and success that other clubs were so keen to heap upon him. Surely Gerrard would be first in Mark Lawrenson’s ranking of Liverpool greats – the man who delivered the club’s first league title in 24 years. As it is, Gerrard’s unfortunate lasting legacy is the lingering disappointment of 2014, overshadowing the many successes he did enjoy at Liverpool.
However, what can never be doubted is Gerrard’s passion and love for the club he grew up supporting. His loyalty and commitment to Liverpool are what will place him first in many fans’ minds as to who Liverpool’s greatest ever player was. He delivered, almost single-handedly, some of the greatest moments in the club’s history, becoming synonymous with the values of commitment and dedication that Bill Shankly instilled at Liverpool Football Club. Gerrard could not deliver that league title and perhaps the lasting memory of his career will indeed be that slip, but maybe that’s ok. Gerrard’s unrivalled passion, and his pride in wearing the red of Liverpool was manifest in that 2014 title charge. Perhaps those values transcend the need for a so-called ‘happy ending’.