Standing In The Way Of Greatness

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is one hell of a player, a player who at one time in his career could will his team to victory seemingly by himself. There is perhaps no Premier League player better at taking a game by the scruff of its neck and putting a stamp on it, making it his and his alone, than Steven Gerrard in his prime. This is not about Steven Gerrard in his prime.

This is about this iteration of Steven Gerrard, the Steven Gerrard who is slowly succumbing to Father Time, transforming from immortal legend to mere mortal. This is a Steven Gerrard who, like many great players before him, is struggling with the thought of not being able to do what he used to be able to do anymore, and in many ways, the story of this Steven Gerrard is not unlike the story of one Kobe Bean Bryant, Laker legend.

Like his Liverpool counterpart, the Lakers guard is an all time great, easily one of the top twenty players in NBA history. I’m not gonna spend too much time talking about Kobe Bryant here, since this is a football blog, but I don’t think you can argue that this version of Kobe Bryant is a number one option if your goal is to win a championship, just like building your team around the talents of Steven Gerrard will probably not lead to league success.

Liverpool have a choice to make this summer, as Stevie is in a contract year. Liverpool have seemingly tried to phase him out in the last couple of weeks, playing him as an impact sub and not in his now customary holding midfielder role. And yet, after last night’s performance against Leicester City, an argument has been made that Steven Gerrard, thirty five year old Steven Gerrard, has the upper hand in negotiations. Which, and excuse my language, is fucking bullshit.

Is Steven Gerrard capable of performances like the one against Leicester? Sure, he is. He can still muster up some of the things that made him great every once in a while. But is that enough to make Liverpool want to hitch their wagon to Stevie? I’m not so sure.

Liverpool was supposed to be on the rise after last season. Sure, they shipped off player of the year Luis Suarez, but they got £80 million (depending on your source) and they were going to invest it wisely. Pardon me for using another basketball adage, but Charles Barkley (I think) was fond of saying that you don’t trade a dollar for four quarters, that, you know, first of all, that’s tuurrible.

However, Liverpool did exactly that, buying up Southampton players left and right and striking a deal with enigmatic forward / head case Mario Balotelli. Liverpool went the Tottenham route and replaced talent with depth. Lots and lots of (average) depth. And yet, none of those players were brought in to replace Steven Gerrard, despite evidence that he isn’t a capable defensive midfielder. Sure, there are the 13 goals (penalties and free kicks for the most part) and 15 assists, but there is also the matter of 50 goals conceded. I’m not too certain you can place all the blame on Liverpool’s center backs for that one.

But I digress. This isn’t about last season. Heck, this isn’t even about this year, so far a disaster of epic proportions that – if it continues this way – will see Liverpool bow out of the Champions league and possibly descend right back into the tailspin of seasons past. No, this is about Liverpool’s future, and whether they want to mortgage that future with an icon of their past, their modern day hero.

And really, that’s what Steven Gerrard is, a hero – for better or worse. He is in his element when it is he who’s responsible for his team’s glory, a symbol of their success. Like Kobe Bryant, you get the sense that Steven Gerrard not only wants his team to win, but that he wants to be the reason for it, a local Merseyside boy saving his local club again and again.

That might have been fine, and I wonder how Steven Gerrard’s career might have turned out – how he would have coped – had he decided to move to Real Madrid or Chelsea back in the prime of his career, but it sure as hell isn’t an option now. Not if Liverpool want to start winning again.

Liverpool will take a look at itself this summer and wonder, like the Lakers did last year, whether holding on to their hero. I don’t know if it’s ironic, but it is somewhat fitting that the future of Liverpool is once again dependent on Steven Gerrard.

The question is, does the hero know when to step away?

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