AND so, after all the tearful goodbyes, the mutual appreciation and the predictable, crushing disappointment, the Steven Gerrard farewell tour reaches its final destination. The Britannia Stadium, Stoke.
Of all the magnificent arenas Gerrard has graced in a Liverpool shirt, from Milan to Madrid, Barcelona to Istanbul, it ends here.
Perhaps it’s fitting, given the stench of anti-climax that has hung around this season like a wet dog blanket. Perhaps it was always leading to this, to Stoke, to a showdown with Charlie Adam, a wrestling match with Ryan Shawcross. Perhaps the grim inevitability of a late Adam winner (left foot, deflected, from the edge of the area) is exactly what Gerrard needs to convince him that he’s made the right decision, that he doesn’t need it all anymore. He doesn’t need any more Stokes.
Thanks for everything, lad. Goodbye and good luck. You’ll be missed.
Despite what the Gerrard snides, who have been around for the last 18 months and who held a brief ceasefire for a couple of hours last Saturday, might say, he’s leaving a massive hole. You don’t lose one of the finest players in the club’s history (if not the greatest, certainly the one who had the most great moments) without feeling the impact. Whatever his shortcomings at this stage, and they are real and they are unsurmountable, he remains Liverpool’s highest goal-scorer this season. That stands as both tribute and indictment.
But this isn’t meant to be about Steven Gerrard. This is about what Liverpool as a club, without Steven Gerrard, looks like.
You might be able to replace his goals. You can find a player to take penalties and free kicks. You get everyone practicing their long passes, their tackling and their coin-toss prediction technique.
What you don’t have is the one thing this Liverpool team needs above all else. The mentality of a Steven Gerrard. The mentality of a winner.
There have been times over the last 17 years when Liverpool have won football matches because Steven Gerrard refused to accept any other outcome. Not because they outplayed the opposition, or because they got lucky. Because Steven Gerrard sensed the looming prospect of defeat and was terrified by it. So terrified that he wouldn’t even look at it. So terrified that he summoned every drop of his strength and his will to chase the storm away, to push on, to drag his team to victory.
It didn’t always happen. There were occasions when Gerrard sulked and shrugged and let frustration spill over into helplessness. But it happened enough, and usually when it mattered most.
I look at the Liverpool squad without Gerrard and I don’t see anyone terrified by defeat. I don’t see anyone with that same desperation to win. Instead, I see a collection of players too easily beaten, in their heads, in their hearts and in their boots.
Is it a reflection of the mind-set of the manager? For all the promise he has shown (and, at varying times, he has shown plenty), he has never given the impression of someone whose only desire is to win. He has never appeared destroyed, enraged by a loss. Rightly or wrongly, at times he seems more concerned with upholding his philosophy, with consolidating the strategy, than with winning football games.
Does it burn, Brendan? Losing to Crystal Palace and Hull and Villa and West Ham and Newcastle? Does it gnaw away at you inside? I hope it does.
Maybe that’s unfair. To be honest, I’m past caring. I just want to see a Liverpool team willing to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents when there are 15 minutes to go and they’re facing another defeat. I want them to intimidate. I want teams to know that they’re in for the most uncomfortable 90 minutes of their season when they come to Anfield. And if they can survive that, and still come away with a result, then well played.
There was a time when the first thing Liverpool demanded of a player was the right mentality. Did he fit the Liverpool mould? Shankly was a staunch advocate of signing those with a belief and commitment that matched his own. Yeats and St. John. Hughes and Keegan. It became an ingrained requirement, passed on down the line of succession. Of course, mistakes were made. Some flattered to deceive; others couldn’t cope with the weight of expectation. But the principle was a sound one. In general, it was clear that if the mentality was right, the player was more likely to succeed. Obvious, really.
Somewhere along the line, it was abandoned. Perhaps the competition for the highest level performers became too intense. Perhaps they couldn’t afford to be quite so picky once the days of dominance came to an end. Either way, they ended up on a path that led to Paul Stewart and Stan Collymore, Ryan Babel and Alberto Aquilani. It led to Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli.
Rodgers acknowledged it in 2013: “In order to breed the consistency needed to give us success, we need to bring in winners — those with the winning mentality.”
He returned to the subject after the Palace debacle last weekend, bemoaning the lack of leaders in the squad; a squad, it should be noted, he has had six transfer windows to shape. What’s gone wrong, then? Because something clearly has, be it the scouting, the coaching or individual player development.
For all the value to be gained from an increased reliance on data collection and analytics, some things can’t be measured. Things like character and will-to-win. Things that set a player apart from his peers. Over the last few years there has been a steady drain of those possessing such traits. Kuyt, Bellamy, Carragher, Reina, Suarez, Gerrard. Men of substance. What we’re left with, as we’ve seen with depressing regularity over the course of this campaign, is a collection of nice lads who lack the killer instinct.
There seems to be every chance that Jordan Henderson will inherit the captaincy. A decent enough player, for sure, though one too often toiling on the periphery, to my jaded, overly judgemental eyes. But he doesn’t, as yet, give off the aura of a leader. He doesn’t grab games round the neck and bend them to his will. He doesn’t force his team-mates to aspire for greatness, to strain every sinew to raise their level lest they incur his displeasure. He may grow into it. Gerrard did. But it all seems a couple of years too early.
The lack of viable candidates for the armband speaks volumes. Think back to 2008-09. It wasn’t just Gerrard driving Liverpool on, fuelling a title challenge that fell short only at the death. It was Carragher. And Reina. And Alonso. And Mascherano. And Kuyt. And Hyypia. And Torres (2009 Torres, not 2011 Torres). More than half the team. Each of them a captain on the pitch, armband or not. Each of them with the kind of mentality that is now in short supply at Anfield.
We say it every year, but this summer’s transfer business is crucial. We need to bring in proven competitors. We need to bring in people prepared to fight tooth and nail for every ball in every game. We need to bring in players that can instil the right attitude and spirit, and who won’t shrink when we demand they strive for greatness. Because that’s the standard we have to get back to.
Otherwise, we become Roy Evans’ Liverpool, capable of delighting but lacking the grit and the spine and the gnarliness to consistently threaten the top teams.
We need to learn, once more, how to become winners, how to behave like winners. Players, manager, owners, supporters, everyone connected with the club. We owe it to Steven Gerrard. We owe it to ourselves.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo
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I want them to intimidate. I want teams to know that they’re in for the most uncomfortable 90 minutes of their season when they come to Anfield. And if they can survive that, and still come away with a result, then well played.
We lose too many games at home. Does anyone know exactly how many games we’ve lost at Anfield under Rodgers? Compare that to Jose and the Plastics at Stamford Bridge. I think he’s only lost once, to Stoke of all things, at home in his two stints there.
I’ve noticed anyone who doesnt agree with a writers view on any given subject is automatically a “snide.” That word has been in many articles on here in the past two weeks (and Ive only started reading two weeks ago). Is it commonplace on the Anfield Wrap? Because its reductive and honestly, quite pathetic. It smacks of immaturity to the nth degree.
“Whats that lah? Don’t think Gerrard has deserved so many minutes on the pitch this season? Cuz you’re a snide innit.”
“Whats that lah? Don’t think Brendan Rodgers is good enough for a side looking to play champions league football? Ah you must be a snide – therefore your opinion is null and void.”
What an intellectual position to take. What a time to be alive.
No it isn’t commonplace.
Incredible footballer, Almost singlehandledly won Pool’s only major silverware in last 10 years with his game and goals in ’05 and ’06 finals.
The one curiosity though, for such a top, top, player, is how many Oops I did it again mistakes at key, key moments he’s had in him. The slip vs Chelsea obviously but also the pass backs vs Henry (for both Liverpool and England!), the own goal vs Chelsea in LC Final, plus of course the sending offs in key games (Man Utd this year,CL decider vs Chelsea etc). Maybe other top players have had as many too, not sure though…
How many “Oops! I did it again moments?”.You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh and pity a comment like that.
No,wait a minute,let’s just put a silhouette of Gerrard above the Shankly Gates with the caption “Oops! I did it again”.Most sane people would take a different meaning from that! we are just now
Anyway Neil that’s a great piece and sums up just about everything about where we are just now.You can look at all the OPTA Stats in the world but you won’t see stats about players who do do crucial things at crucial moments.
It might be shouting at somebody to pull their finger out.It might be a well-timed tackle.It might be a lung bursting run to get onto a pass.
But whatever it is it defines players who can’t accept a defeat.
Just a little anectdote about a famous LFC player who used to come around in the week to go out for a pint.We’d play 2 a side in the lobby (hallway) with 2 10 year old kids:one on each side.We set a time and if he was losing he’d slide tackle from one end of the lobby to the other on the lino (linoleum floor covering).We couldn’t leave till he scored the winner!
As you say,it seems to be missing now.
We can’t know how anyone feels inside, but great leaders speak and act as if they have fire in their belly. Great leaders stoke that fire in those around them. A fire. A belief.
The people of Liverpool are passionate. We burn inside and we stoke each others fire. Together we are a force that believes we can overcome any obstacle.
You don’t have to be born in Liverpool to be one of that force. We welcome anyone who is willing to commit to us and our city and our team.
We had that commitment from Rafa and from many foreign players. They each became one of us. They felt our collective strength in Istanbul. At half time our strength, our belief, flowed through the Liverpool dressing room from wherever we were.
Hodgson wasn’t one of us. Is Rogers one of us? Do we feel he has committed to us, our city, our team? Is Rogers the man to communicate his passion for our city, our people our team? Is Rogers the man to bring us all together, to bring every last grain of effort from every player, every week? Is Rogers the man to harness our collective fire, to fight, to chant to cheer until we drop?
Are you saying the fire, the… the will to crush our enemies is still there? ;p
‘We say it every year, but this summer’s transfer business is crucial.’ I’ll say, Neil. We might not be able to right the wrongs of the last several shithead summer’s dealings but now would be a really nifty time for our first decent summer transfer window since 2007 to happen. Amazing that we’ve even had the two title challenges and won the one single cup in that time when you weigh it up.
What’s funny is that the Torres summer was the last one we’ve had where it’s been clear cut whether the manager is implementing his vision or not: weird Parry brinksmanship over Barry/Keane in ’08, then H&G belt tightening kicking in ’09, then the summer of Puslow in ’10, then FSG ‘moneyball’ with first Comolli in ’11, then Assaidi but not Dempsey in ’12 and since then this transfer committee the last couple of summers. Three managers have been sacked and more than enough millions to have won the league(s?) and made us champions league mainstays has been wasted in this time. That phrase about football being “complicated by idiots” comes to mind. You’d think we’d be the first ones to heed those words considering their source, wouldn’t you?
Generally, the whole ‘just signing the cheques for who the manager wants’ seemed to serve us well enough between about ’61 and ’07. Might be worth a shout like, looking at the honours list we forever dine out on. Just to avoid ‘sack the manager’ arguments for at least a couple of years, never mind actually dreaming of getting back to being one of the elite. From wiki: ‘With (board member Eric) Sawyer’s help, Shankly signed them both (Yeats and St John) in the spring of 1961 and challenged the Liverpool board to “sack me if they can’t play”.’ Indeed. Key word for me there is ‘help’.
(My loss of patience with us thinking we’re cleverer than what we’ve proven to be isn’t necessarily a veiled defence of Rodgers, btw. If we end up signing Dempsey and Ashley Williams instead of Sturridge and Sakho respectively with Henderson going the other way, then people must fall on their sword. Just as long as it’s allowed to be their own. I’m sick to the back teeth of the layers of bullshit and buck-passing that’s been going on across the times of multiple owners all the while – miraculous title challenges five years apart aside – we’ve been toiling. Mirrors the lack of responsibility being taken on the pitch in Gerrard’s wake that Neil’s written about here, so there’s that anyway.)
“The lack of viable candidates for the armband speaks volumes.”
What lack is that? There’s an obvious and viable candidate for the armband, much more so than Jordan “Hey!” Henderson.
He is a defensive/holding midfielder. One who never berates his teammates. Who gets along with young and old players, English, Spanish or other language-speaking. A true warrior who’s been through a lot in his time at LFC.
Lucas Pezzini Leiva.
He was the clear obvious successor even just last season before we went with this stupid fad that we need our holding midfielder being able to pin 40 yard crossfield balls and got frozen out
The treatment of a great clubman like Lucas has been shite
Lucas has been described as ‘very possibly the nicest man in football’, and ‘…the boy from Brazil is as much Liverpool as the boy from Kirkby.’ But he’s been treated abominably by us and is again rumoured to be slated for sale to Inter.
The last time Liverpool team that fought was Kenny Dalglish’s team, when despite losing the FA Cup Final to Chelsea the ‘lumbering oaf’ Carroll scared the bejasus out of Terry. The committed have all been cleaned out – Agger, Kuyt, even the likes of Shelvey and Spearing. Rodgers and his crew have castrated LFC. You just know that we are, currently, incapable of fighting back.
And yet, our genius manager, is the one who said that the players just had to “man up!”.
“I’ve spoken to the players and told them if you get little niggles or little injuries you’ve got to man up.” 7 September 2012.
But we’re not supposed to pay attention to what he says publicly. Except when he says things that convince his staunch supporters that “he gets us”. Then it’s ok, we should hang on his every word.
Couldn’t agree more about the lack of leaders and fighters in the team. CL05 we had Carra, Sami & Gerrard, even Alonso to an extent.
Last season we had Suarez and Gerrard.
We are turning into Arsenal of a few yrs back with no backbone and perennial bottlers.
We still have Coutinho, he is the inheritor to Gerrard’s fighting mentality.
Until his body breaks down too, which if it’s just him fighting, it will happen faster than Gerrard’s decline. Then we are truly screwed, we need more palyers like Coutinho.
Wait, Coutinho is the inheritor of Gerrard’s fighting mentality?
We have issues if that’s the case.
Of the younger players, Emre Can seems to have that “refuse to die” attitude.
That’s harsh on Countinho, he scores almost all of our big goals dating back to last season with goals against city and Fulham. Yes he doesn’t show up every time but neither did Gerrard, Coutinho is without a doubt a little scraper. He get’s out-muscled but the spirit is there, Emre can learn from him.