Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Manchester United FC

I WAS wondering how I would cope, writes ANTHONY WHITE.

Until Steven Gerrard came out and apologised and took “full responsibility” for the defeat against Manchester United I was wondering how, as a late thirties relatively well-adjusted man, I was going to cope with the working week. My job, mortgage and the well-being of my two young children were all on the line. Fortunately Steven Gerrard apologised. The mortgage got paid and the kids are still being parented (ish).

Somewhere, sometime football got so sanitised that 45,000 spectators and nearly all of the worldwide web with a Liverpool FC persuasion needed an apology from a professional footballer to seemingly move on with their lives. How the fuck did that happen? The apology has been much discussed. But why did people feel he had to apologise? Let’s be clear: Steven Gerrard fucked up. Let’s also be clear that it’s entirely understandable that people are angry and frustrated by his action. But to feel the need for an apology — and later some form of resolution and satisfaction when one is delivered — is difficult to comprehend for me.

It’s admirable that Steven Gerrard apologised, but other than limiting the flak that comes his way on a local level I can’t fully understand what the purpose of it is. I was as gutted as any supporter on Sunday but Steven Gerrard took “FULL responsibility”. Are you sure, Steven? It surely wasn’t entirely your fault, was it?

The apology I dislike for two reasons. Firstly, while I am sure he wishes he hadn’t done it, I don’t believe him when he says that he takes full responsibility. At that point (and maybe still now) he will be privately blaming (rightly and wrongly) others for why it happened. Secondly, why expose him? Why put him up in front of the world and make the sense of exclusion that you feel after a sending off more heightened? I think it was unfair — even if he suggested doing it himself. Apologise to the players? Definitely. To the manager? Maybe. To the world? Why?

Brendan Rodgers dealt with the post-match interviews quite well regarding Gerrard but I would have protected the player a little more. I certainly wouldn’t have allowed him to say “full responsibility”. Life gets harder with 10 men but it wasn’t a bed of roses with 11. It might have changed. It might not.

For me, why football is so attractive is because the game that is played on the pitches across Merseyside and beyond is generally replicated professionally. That being the case, why are we so shocked and surprised when similar mistakes occur? If you know football at any level you will have experienced what happened on Sunday. It’s a game played by humans. Humans have emotions that influence physical and psychological behaviours. Therefore, mistakes happen. Being a professional doesn’t mean that they are not going to happen.

Right now football analysis at all levels is failing to take this into account.It is not an exact science. It feels like professionals are not allowed to get anything wrong. If we were subjected to the same level of scrutiny in our jobs we would all be up the wall. This is happening in tactical debates too. There are two teams playing — your opposition may actually try to win the game.

You may argue that’s its unprofessional (rightly, by the way) and that Steven Gerrard is solely responsible for his actions (partly right) but it’s the apology and satisfaction gained from the apology that perplexed me.

Who else needs to apologise? Brendan Rodgers for his role in the sending off? Liverpool fans for their role in the sending off? Emotions were flying around for everyone yet Steven Gerrard committed the act so had to apologise. To me it doesn’t seem a very adult reaction or a reflection of the game.

I like Steven Gerrard an exceptional amount. This wasn’t always the case. I watched Steven Gerrard as a kid play against younger age groups of my club as he was four years younger than me. Ah, the days of special players playing 28 games over a weekend before Howard Wilkinson and his Charter for Quality took over and fucked it up for every trophy-hunting Sunday League manager.

At that time, Gerrard could be difficult and throw in those same types of tackles. It prejudiced how I felt when he first emerged and the over-the-top tackles were something I never liked. I was right in front of the George Boeteng tackle in 2001. It was silly and unnecessary. I realised though that I needed to appreciate his talent. As he got older I loved the player and the symbol he became for Liverpool. He has led the club brilliantly.

But I’d be equally outraged if it had been Mario Balotelli or Joe Allen apologising for something that went on in a game. Footballers have vulnerabilities that undermine their talent.  Unquestionably, dealing with his emotions is Steven Gerrard’s. The repetition of emotional physical outbursts (a nice way of saying tackling like a dickhead) is Gerrard’s vulnerability and even now, approaching 35, he has demonstrated a lack of learning. Seemingly Zidane had the same problem as referenced in The Anfield Wrap show on Monday and as demonstrated in two World Cups, specifically a World Cup final.  I dread to think how Zidane coped at school with the ‘your ma’ jokes.

But back to Gerrard. Here’s a question. When he threw in his first tackle on Juan Mata how many of you went mad with excitement and verbally or physically expressed that at the ground or at home? I know the ground did because I heard it. I suspect many at home acted the same way. I am not being smart after the event but those 48 seconds lasted an hour for me. I was not happy with the Mata tackle. I recoiled. Immediately all the previous concerns I had with Gerrard (frustration with being a sub, anger with the manager, his legacy and his leaving) were coming together and I instinctively knew if the ball bounced the wrong way we had problems. Back it came to Gerrard and you know what happened next.

Some may disagree, but I think Steven Gerrard would have been very pissed off with Brendan Rodgers as he ran on to the pitch for the second half. He probably understood being sub on Monday against Swansea but there were clear issues to be addressed in that game. He came on, made a difference yet was benched the next game. I felt Gerrard should play. It’s a fair guess he felt the same and I would be shocked if he wasn’t fuming inside.

Put yourself in Gerrard’s shoes (or boots). He watches his team put in very little in the way of tackles and is also watching a couple of players that he thinks he is better than playing ahead of him.  He is angry. He wants to make an impact. When the opportunity arises, he makes a tackle that could have gone wrong. The crowd erupts. That’s what we wanted, but deep down we know that the tackle is close to foolishness. Emotions. We are contributing. Imagine inside Gerrard’s head now. His adrenalin, coupled with the breathlessness that happens when you come on as a sub must be killing him.

Then Steven Gerrard sees that someone has tried to nail him. Someone who he doesn’t know. He stamps. The ‘doesn’t know’ bit is important. Gerrard can be deferential to those that he plays against occasionally, particularly if he has a high regard for them. But he lashes out immaturely. That 48 seconds, which was like an hour for me, probably felt like five seconds to Gerrard. That was frustration. That was circumstances. It was ridiculous and inexcusable but understandable at the same time when considering the factors that contributed to it.

It would be interesting to know what Rodgers’s instructions were to Gerrard. Post-match information gives the impression that tackles dominated half time but knowing Gerrard and his history in these fixtures (and other high-profile games) telling him to go out and make tackles does not seem the cleverest instruction. Does Rodgers need to apologise for his role in team selection and instructions? Does he need to apologise for telling Steven to put himself about?

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Manchester United FC

Did anyone — and I mean anyone — shout, “Calm the fuck down, Steven”? Probably not — so emotionally he was out of control and the environment just added to that. Disappointingly, people are paid to say it — before and during games. As supporters we are not.

Clearly, I do not think anyone needs to apologise. The manager definitely does not. Even more ludicrously would be the suggestion that the crowd does. Steven Gerrard should not have to either. Despite the hype and other influences the game is still a game. It’s three points. The season has not ended. It’s not even a trophy we were or are fighting for. I understand the importance — I am not being naïve. But football is a game where things can go wrong — the reaction should recognise that.

Apologies to fans over games of football should be treated with suspicion on a whole host of levels. It’s part of the PR game, the media spin, the post-match ‘paralysis through analysis’. It lacks sincerity by all involved. Apologies are needed in more serious matters. Sendings off happen. Move on.  Professionals should aim to minimise the possibilities and the variables but it’s not an exact science.

Steven Gerrard now has a three-match ban. He suffers for his silliness. Perhaps Brendan Rodgers will feel he got some things wrong and contributed to it. He suffers now also. There is no need to demand an apology, no need to give one and no need to feel appeased by the issuing of one. It just seems to me to be part of the faux outrage that seems omnipresent in football these days. Where has perspective gone?  No single game is defining — it’s the sum of the parts. Perspective. It’s a physical and mental game. Players are not robots. They make mistakes.

Apologies? No thanks. It’s all about the next game.


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