Steven Gerrard’s decision to leave Liverpool, announced on Friday, marks the end of an era for one of this iconic club’s most iconic players – one in which players remaining true to their local team throughout their careers has become an increasing rarity.
The man who has been captain for 12 years, having joined Liverpool at the age of nine, departs at the end of the season with a string of honours and inspirational performances that make him one of the greats of the English top flight.
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“My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over,” he said.
But for all the trophies he has brought to the team, one regret will always remain, in the form of the agonising slip that signalled the end of Liverpool’s title charge that Gerrard had imperiously led in 2013-14.
If that last impression will inevitably linger when looking back on Gerrard, it is only because he has so strongly been identified as the heartbeat of the team, and the cruelty of the moment so difficult not to empathise with.
A fairer evaluation of his worth is to look further back on his many triumphs. Gerrard inspired the second-half turnaround from 3-0 down that saw Liverpool beat AC Milan to the 2005 Champions League title, and is the only player to have scored in the finals of the Champions League, F.A. Cup, Uefa Cup, and League Cup – the latter three forming a treble of titles in 2001.
Gerrard has been one of Liverpool’s helmsman in their barren Premier League years, and could have taken the easy option of winning the league title by joining Chelsea in 2004 or 2005. That he didn’t means he leaves as one of Anfield’s favourite sons – loved far beyond the statistic of 180 goals in 695 appearances.
The man born in the village of Whiston describes the decision to leave Merseyside for the first time in his 34 years as “the toughest” he has ever made. The move will be overseas, after stating that he couldn’t play for another English club out of respect for Liverpool. Major League Soccer in the United States is a likely destination.
Having retired from international football after last year’s disappointing World Cup campaign, Gerrard no longer has England aspirations to consider. That career had a highlight in a long-range strike in Munich 14 years ago as England beat Germany 5-1. But like his peers, Gerrard has many happier memories with his club than with three lions on his chest.
The leaving of Liverpool will grieve fans, and poses a big problem for manager Brendan Rodgers, who may find another leader hard to come by for a team that has slipped back into mediocrity this season.
“It is almost an impossible task to find the words to appropriately sum up Steven Gerrard and his importance to Liverpool,” Rodgers said on Friday.
“This is an era where the word ‘legend’ is vastly overused, but in his case it actually doesn’t do him justice.”