Since January this year, Liverpool have had a positive identity crisis; or rather, a shift in identity. A club that has been taunted as a one-man army on the pitch for over half-a-decade is slowly outgrowing that tag; in the process, becoming a more balanced team on the field, overseen by an Anfield god.
There are only a few players in the world that could challenge the phrase “no player is bigger than the club”. Like Francesco Totti at Roma, Steven Gerrard has been such a player for Liverpool. A few months ago, his absence would psychologically damage the whole mood of every Red around the world. Win expectancy would collapse and betting odds would change significantly on hearing news of his exclusion.
On reading a Liverpool playing eleven without their super skipper, opposition teams would enter the game with renewed confidence and hope of getting something from a match they may not have earlier targeted as a potential for gaining points. Three managers had come and gone, but Steven Gerrard’s aura at the club was never superseded and the team’s dependency on him never subsided.
All this was before Kenny Dalglish stepped in. Now, everything has changed.
Liverpool F.C. is no longer referred to as ‘Steven Gerrard’s football club’. Today, it is King Kenny’s football club undergoing ‘King Kenny’s revolution’. It has been a long time since Gerrard has been badly missed; he has been missed a lot but not nearly in as much desperation as before. Even talks – mostly nonsensical – of Gerrard’s injury woes being a blessing in disguise have surfaced in the opinion sections, claiming Liverpool lack the required balance with the skipper in the team.
Many questions could be raised about Liverpool’s captain – At 31, does he feature in Liverpool’s long-term plans? Has his importance reduced at the club? Is he a guaranteed starter or will he be soon playing the role of someone like Ryan Giggs at Man United – i.e. as an intermittent starter?
There are a few new factors that have started to slowly release Liverpool of its Gerrard dependency.
First, the presence of a bigger personality at the club has given an impression of Gerrard being overshadowed. It has taken a great man like Kenny Dalglish to eclipse Liverpool’s special association with Gerrard. After all, what ‘The King’ has given the club in his player and managerial careers could hardly be matched by anybody today.
John W. Henry’s signing of Kenny Dalglish meant that Steven Gerrard was no longer the man Liverpool fans immediately looked up to. Another personality at the club was bearing the burden of their expectations and his every decision was greeted with a leap of faith by the supporters. It is Kenny Dalglish’s wand that is expected to weave the magic to turn things around, rather than Stevie’s gifted feet.
Second, is Luis Suarez. He can be singled out for the massive impact he has had at the club. The Uruguayan has not only helped us forget Fernando Torres faster than one could say ’He should’ve stayed at a real club’, but has also become the heartbeat of the football club. When ‘El Pistolero’ is on the ball, anything can happen; and something or the other usually does. Fans have taken a liking to him like no other signing in the last decade and his absence from the line-up is resulting in the same dejection, which was felt when Gerrard went missing from the line-up. Suarez is slowly becoming the pride of the club.
With the emergence of new heroes like Suarez and Meireles and fresh faces like Henderson, in addition to a new figure to worship at the club, Liverpool’s ability to cope emotionally without Gerrard is definitely increasing, since there is a breath of fresh air and a breeze of optimism at the club.
Third – and this one from an on-field point-of-view – the immense competition in midfield is reducing the impact of Gerrard’s absence. Liverpool, today, has enough players to cover for Steven’s injuries. A season ago, Lucas and Spearing were providing cover. This season, there is a possibility of Lucas, Spearing, Adam, Henderson and Aquilani providing cover when Gerrard is out of action. In fact, there is a possibility that Gerrard may not be occupying his favourite position; the last occurrence of which was a time when Liverpool were a dominant force.
But don’t let these factors hide the truth from you. Till Steven Gerrard retires on his own, he is going to be a huge asset at the club – and perhaps, an unmatched asset. And here’s why.
Kenny Dalglish is only the manager. Every manager needs a captain, a leader on the pitch. In his current stint at the club, Dalglish has been missing that person – someone who could carry out the instructions onto the pitch, someone who could lift the players from inside the field rather than the sidelines and someone every player would listen to.
And still, only Steven Gerrard perfectly qualifies for that job at the club. Pepe Reina is too far from the action and not in the thick of things. Jamie Carragher may be in the thick of things but his dipping form and unpredictability of featuring in the match doesn’t hold too well for the said job. Stevie is a world-class player and even today, he is the best player at the club. He commands respect of others like no other player.
Steven Gerrard’s versatility is something that is perhaps heavily underrated. There aren’t many players in a generation that are capable of playing anywhere when you need them to. Gerrard, however, is one such player. Coupled with football intelligence and game sense in abundance, Gerrard’s ability to execute things the right way, according to the immediate need is unique. Over the last six years for Liverpool, the man has served as a central midfielder, an attacking midfielder, a right midfielder, a second striker and even as a brilliant right back in the Istanbul final.
Especially during a time when Kenny Dalglish is expected to deploy a variety of different formations, Gerrard remains the most valuable player in the squad. He makes things simpler at the club. As per requirement, he could be used on the right in a 4-4-2, just behind the striker in a 4-4-1-1, as a second striker in a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1 and so on. The list just goes on. Substitution dilemmas become easier and in-game formational changes are less of a headache when a player of Gerrard’s ability is on the field.
Injuries have become a major roadblock. At 31, Gerrard’s career is definitely on the decline. However, positive vibes coming from Gerrard are a huge indicator of things at the club. Although he has been ruled out until September due to an infection, which has prolonged his return, Gerrard was confident of his health and had claimed that the phase was the best – personally and team-wise – he had been through since a long time ago. There may be signs of wearing down physically, but Gerrard is a resilient character and Liverpool are a long way away from seeing the last of his best.
After all, captain fantastic still has unfinished business at Liverpool football club and isn’t going to leave any stones unturned in going all out for trophies, until his body gives in. With all the speculations doing rounds of who and what Liverpool exactly need, Kenny Dalglish’s puzzle has been missing a piece from within the club itself; Gerrard having played only six games under Dalglish. The Anfield faithful can only rub their hands in anticipation of the magic duo of Kenny-Gerrard being unleashed on the Premier League, sometime soon.
And no matter who the manager further signs in this window, there will always be one difference between a good Liverpool and a great Liverpool.
A fit Steven Gerrard.
Follow us on twitter @TheHardTackle