There’s an old adage in life, that father time is undefeated. It’s nine times out of ten used in reference to an aging object in question. In the sporting world, it’s a saying that carries around the sense of a player’s career hitting its final chapter regardless of the player’s ability at that point.
As a fan you’re in a perilous situation, celebrating and reminiscing the totality of player X’s prime years while also in some situations lamenting that he’s still being played a high amount of minutes despite hovering around replacement level of quality.
You never want to be in this predicament; in an ideal world the former great player would be phased out smoothly while a successor would take his place. Sadly those instances are few and far between.
There have been many examples of the struggle that comes with dealing with fading player abilities, and one of them currently unravelling in Merseyside. Once upon a time, Steven Gerrard was a really good footballer. How good was he? That’s neither here or there. He excelled during a time in football where data was as archaic as it came, where the makings of a legend was purely on the eye test and remembering when a player rose up where the situation called for it.
Gerrard did it enough times during the 2000s that he built up the goodwill to be considered a club legend, to some even being considered as one of the best players of the EPL era. Who could forget the 2006 FA Cup Final, the 2004-05 Champions League run, or the number of cups he helped engineer from 2001 to 2004?
He was a rover, the embodiment of the ethos that English football stood for in the 2000s. Pace, passion and power. Whether he played as a second striker or as a positionless midfielder, he was a player who thrived on chaos and freedom of movement because he had the ample amount of athleticism required for this role.
Tactical acumen wasn’t the trait that was associated with Steven Gerrard, but it was a workable situation with how Rafa Benitez made Liverpool a team that built from the back. Perhaps the game that symbolised this version of Gerrard was the famous 4-1 victory over Manchester United in 2008-09 when Liverpool made their pseudo run for the EPL title.
As the legs started to leave him, a deeper role ensued. On some fronts it made a tad bit of sense. Gerrard’s ability to ping balls from deep areas could be great in sparking fast counter attacks if he had the ample amount of runners to do so. On the other hand, Gerrard’s ability to play defence and not ball watch was on the same level as Joey Barton’s ability to keep himself sane.
So what do you get when you mix in aging legs, a hero ball mindset and suspect (to say the least) defensive acumen? Well, you get what we see now, which is a way below replacement level midfielder who still carries around the confidence that this is 2005.
The truth of the matter is what we’re seeing now is to some extent the same things we saw last season, only Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were around to cover up those moments with a plentiful amounts of goals which in some cases Gerrard helped facilitate.
I can’t tell you how humorous it is to watch Steven Gerrard try shots from long distance in the hope that it’ll magically end up in the back of the net. The sounds of Anfield pretending to muster up the excitement of a potential Gerrard goal when the realities are those events are as rare as a meteor shower.
His performance against Arsenal at the weekend was the full Gerrard experience: aimless shots that were all bark and no bite, a couple of moments of Gerrard trying to ping passes to Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana that went wayward, and we even got two instances of the dreaded ‘s’ word rearing its ugly head, proof that God is a huge troll.
This wouldn’t be such a big problem if Gerrard wasn’t being played an insane amount of minutes, but that’s the case with Liverpool. It’s one of the dreaded issues when it comes to dealing with players of Gerrard’s stature. You have to work around their egos and have the team still feature them in an ample amount of action.
It’s not totally Gerrard’s fault in this case as it’s also a representation of how erratic and, at times, putrid Liverpool have been in the transfer windows under Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers has even tried playing him in the number 10 role behind the striker which also produced remedial results.
Emre Can is at this moment the best replacement for Gerrard and is probably a better option right now but the amount of stick Rodgers would get for dropping Gerrard on a consistent basis would be high (hell, just look at what happened to Andres-Villas Boas when he dropped Frank Lampard).
So this is what it’s like to watch a fading club legend. It’s a mixture of anguish, reminiscing over the past and just foaming in the mouth over why Old Yeller hasn’t been put out of his misery yet. With the talks of Steven Gerrard’s current contract expiring this summer, there have been rumours of a possible move away from Liverpool.
The sanity that would come from watching less of Gerrard’s antics would be a welcome addition but at the same time I’d be saddened by losing that, a window into the masochistic nature of a football fan.
For now all that is certain is that there’s at least 21 more opportunities to watch a once proud footballer stumble to the finish line.