He still has a lot to offer, but Steven Gerrard is already widely regarded as one of the greatest Liverpool players of all time, the greatest, according to friend and team-mate Jamie Carragher. Supporters of Liverpool’s rivals will disagree I’m sure, but it’s arguably a sporting travesty that a player of Gerrard’s ability is yet to win the Premier League title.
At the age of 32, time is not on his side to put that right either, unless of course Anfield’s ‘Rodgers’ Revolution’ bares fruit far ahead of schedule. What intrigues me most about the new-look Liverpool is how the club captain will fit in – because being Steven Gerrard he surely HAS to fit in, right?
On the face of it, that’s a fair assumption, and not just because of his outstanding record of 149 goals in 585 club appearances – the current England captain was probably the nation’s best performer at UEFA Euro 2012.
Inspired rather than restricted by the responsibility of leading his country, Gerrard again showed a strength of character that he’s stamped on umpteen Liverpool matches over the last fourteen years.
Although slightly reined in this summer, it’s historically been an all-action style that’s won many fans and endless plaudits, but I just wonder whether it will need to be tempered, altered or even watered-down at a club that appears to be in the embryonic stages of a significant change in playing style?
Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers will be all about patience, passing and possession, most probably in a 4-3-3 formation – expect the emphasis to be less on setting a high tempo and more on ball retention, with ‘Hollywood’ passes discouraged.
So while the likes of Houllier and Benitez encouraged Gerrard’s dominating and marauding style, Rodgers is likely to prefer a calmer influence in the heart of his midfield, whose major responsibility will be to keep things ticking over.
That cries out the name Lucas to me and Rodgers has already been very complimentary about the fit-again Brazilian who has improved immeasurably in recent years and could prove fundamental to the way the new-look Liverpool will set-up and play.
One of many reasons I say that is the calm and efficient way the Brazilian goes about his business – he’s happy to be a cog in the wheel, relying more on brains than brawn to win the ball and then distribute it, usually passing no more than 10 yards.
While central-midfielders like Gerrard, and even Souness before him, excelled in the heat of an ‘engine room’, the midfield environment seemingly preferred by Brendan Rogers is a much calmer place with discipline and technique appreciated more than power and pace.
It’s all about the ball working harder than the players and less can indeed be more in those circumstances. Those in any doubt might want to ask themselves who looked more tired after 120 minutes in the Euro 2012 quarter-final between England and Italy…Pirlo or Gerrard?
In fairness to the England captain he’d exhumed much energy in previous games at the tournament attempting to lead and drive on a team that was often up against it, just as he’s done for much of his Liverpool career.
Gerrard is almost synonymous with the phrase ‘grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck’, but this presumed quality only leads to further question marks about how he’ll fit into a new-look Liverpool where the emphasis will be on the collective unit.
As brilliant and talismanic as Gerrard has been during much of his Liverpool career, there’s a controversial school of thought that, through no fault of his own, the captain’s dominant presence has not always helped the club’s attempts to build a league title winning squad – his performances often masking or excusing the deficiencies of some of those around him.
Dropping someone for being too good would of course be perceived by the Liverpool supporting public as ridiculous, and being a modern, media savvy manager, the whole PR aspect to this will not have been lost on Rodgers.
Failing to accommodate a club legend, who’s still viewed as a prized asset by the club’s fans, would constitute a nightmarish start for someone trying to wins hearts and minds on Merseyside in their first truly ‘big’ job.
The challenge for Brendan Rodgers and indeed Gerrard himself is to find a way of adapting his game to a style and formation that he’s simply not used to at club level, whilst also acknowledging the limitations brought about by advancing years.
A huge plus in this respect is Gerrard’s versatility, as demonstrated by some of the best form of his career playing wide on the right under Rafael Benitez, who also used him at right–back during extra-time in the 2005 Champions League Final.
In fact, when asked recently in a short video on the club’s official website to state where he played, Gerrard replied; “about ten different positions”, finding the right one is likely to be among the toughest initial challenges Brendan Rogers will face as Liverpool manager.