The Kop legend has been the heartbeat of the club for over a decade but is his waning presence now hampering his side amid more contract speculation?
By Gary Maiden at Anfield
A little over a decade on from the heroics that dragged Liverpool past Olympiakos into the knockout stages of the Champions League, Steven Gerrard remains the main attraction at Anfield.
Liverpool went on to lift the trophy on a famous night in Istanbul in one of the most dramatic comebacks in football history, with the captain beginning the great escape as the Reds trailed AC Milan 3-0.
Gerrard’s name is still met with the loudest cheer when the teams are read out at Anfield. But the 34-year-old no longer warrants a starting place so could it now be time for the Reds skipper to seek a fresh challenge?
In Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Leicester, Jordan Henderson was placed on the right of midfield to accommodate Gerrard centrally. That decision could have cost the Reds two points as their ageing midfield was overrun by a vibrant Foxes pack as the game wore on.
Henderson can now offer the same level of energy in a central role that the former England captain once did. The changing of the guard must be a high priority for Brendan Rodgers with the Huyton-born skipper’s performances under the spotlight.
Gerrard was rested for Monday evening’s convincing 4-1 victory over Swansea and the balance of the midfield was there for all to see, with Adam Lallana shining in a youthful side. There is no way of predicting if result would have been the same had the captain started, but could his powerful position at the club be preventing Rodgers moving to replace him?
The problem is not that Gerrard is getting older – everyone does – it is that the team still relies on him. When Gerrard plays he is still expected to take every free-kick and corner as well as act as the engine room of the midfield, a burden that is not shared.
Manchester United’s failure to replace their ageing stars was highlighted when Paul Scholes came out of retirement to partner a 40-year-old Ryan Giggs in midfield.
The Reds boss faces a big decision in the coming weeks and months. The Northern Irishman, and Liverpool as a club, must not let their hearts rule their heads when deciding on the future of a club legend.
At the same time they must not worry too much about his age. Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are both still key figures in the Premier League, and are two years older than the Liverpool star. The big difference though is that the Manchester City and Chelsea squads contain more quality, and those two players are used more sparingly. Their teams are not built around those players.
Gerrard is now free to speak to clubs from abroad with his current deal expiring within six months and there are several clubs interested in his services. Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls have both expressed an interest in taking the one-club man to the MLS, offers that may well tempt Gerrard given that his position in this Liverpool side remains unclear. There will be added interest, domestically as well as abroad.
Rodgers himself appears to be particularly laid back about the situation.
“I have got a great relationship and communication with Steven so we understand exactly the position. He has earned that respect if he does talk to anyone.”
After the lacklustre second half display against Leicester, Rodgers once again refused to confirm whether his captain would remain at the club.
He added: “There’s no update. When there is we’ll let you know.”
Gerrard has spoken of his desire to continue playing so the question is whether he is willing to accept that his position at Anfield could be changing, that it is time for a new star to shine, or whether he wants one last hurrah and the chance to experience football elsewhere.
With that in mind, Gerrard will have been concerned to hear his manager again speaking of managing his game time.
Rodgers said: “When I came in here two and a half years ago, everyone was talking about whether he can play in my type of football and were his legs gone.
“I’ve just got to manage his game time. It’s my situation of picking the best team and making it fresh as often as we possibly can.”
Seeing bottom club Leicester push on for a winner in the second half with little resistance shown from his midfield talisman may just have made up Rodgers’ mind on Gerrard.
It is an unenviable situation to be in, but continuing to build a team around a player whose best years are behind him could prove costly for Rodgers.