Previous
Juventus
Tottenham Hotspur
ESPN3 4:30 AM UTC
Game Details
Next

Steven Gerrard is leaving Liverpool. Is he their greatest player ever?

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard confirms plans to quit the club at the end of this season

Steven Gerrard has decided to bring the curtain down on a glittering career with Liverpool by announcing he will leave the club at the end of the season. Liverpool bloggers Steven Kelly and David Usher give their reaction to the news and ponder life after the iconic captain.

So, the end of an era. Is Gerrard Liverpool's greatest-ever player?

Steven Kelly: Always a tricky one, this. My dad always claimed it was Billy Liddell. He argued that just because the 1970s and '80s players won medals galore, that did not make them any better than Liddell, who played a generation earlier and whose great talent and loyalty were squandered because of the paucity of talent around him.

That's very much the kind of level on which Gerrard stands, although it should be noted that he has played in some very good sides. It's not always been poor by any means. The "carrying Liverpool" tag has been a bit of a myth sometimes.

One of those 1970s players, Kenny Dalglish, is my own choice as the greatest player. These things are often linked with generational sentiment, and it's understandable that the younger fans will side with Gerrard. He's all they've known, and whatever success there has been in the modern era has been largely down to him.

David Usher: Gerrard is the greatest. I take your point about Liddell, and there are many similarities between them -- in terms of longevity, loyalty and in some respects playing style -- as, by all accounts, Liddell was also a versatile, explosive powerhouse of a player.

While Gerrard was surrounded by greater talent than Liddell ever was, he was never as blessed as Dalglish, who -- great as he undoubtedly was -- certainly had the benefit of a much-better supporting cast than "Stevie G."

It's all subjective, of course. There is no right and wrong answer here, and judging players from different eras is impossible. What I'd say, though, is that unlike Liddell, Dalglish, John Barnes or any of the other Anfield greats of the past, Gerrard has spent his entire career playing in the modern era against top talent from around the world on a weekly basis. Not only that, but he's also been consistently brilliant in numerous positions while delivering on the big occasion countless times.

For the majority of his career, Gerrard would have graced any team in the world, and that was shown in the fact that most of them chased him. In his prime years, he could have played for anybody, but he didn't; he chose to stay and play for Liverpool, and he's the biggest reason for much of the success Liverpool fans have witnessed over the past 15 years.

SK: In Dalglish's defence, it still takes something breathtaking to rise above the gallery of fantastic players Liverpool had back then. I think it's far too close to call, though, and maybe all the greats should be made equal-first!

Steven Gerrard

Teams captained: Liverpool, England.

Trophies won: FA Cup (2001, 2006); League Cup (2001, 2003, 2012); Champions League (2005); UEFA Cup (2001); UEFA Super Cup (2001, 2005).

Why is he calling it a day?

DU: Last season has a lot to do with it. It would be going too far to say it broke him, but it certainly took a heavy toll. I mean, how could it not?

After missing out on the title in such a heartbreaking manner, Gerrard immediately went to the World Cup and suffered more disappointment with England's latest letdown at a major tournament. That was quickly followed by the departure of Luis Suarez from Liverpool and the realisation that not only had his best (and last) shot at winning the title gone, but it was his slip against Chelsea that -- rightly or wrongly -- will forever be remembered as the defining moment when Liverpool lost it. That has to be hard to get over even for someone as mentally strong as Gerrard.

He could have opted to stick around for another year or two as a squad player and finish his career at Anfield, scrapping for fourth place and hoping to maybe add a cup medal to his collection, but I get the impression he just no longer had the stomach for it after all that has happened since "the slip."

SK: It does feel like a retirement of sorts, doesn't it, with all due respect to MLS, where he might land. It's a new life and a new adventure. The better sides in Europe have probably been sounded out as well, with no really tempting offers forthcoming. That tells a story in itself.

Gerrard may feel that some of the reaction to his performances this season has gone a little too far. Football's a cruel business, and gratitude is never permanent. How the great ones choose to end their careers has always been potentially messy.

I think Gerrard is smart enough to know that his performances have not been what he would like or what anyone would like, really. If he has sensed that his presence may in fact delay Liverpool moving on in the immediate future, then it's almost an act of sacrifice, strange as that sounds.

Is it the right decision?

DU: Yes. That said, you could argue that it's a damning indictment of Liverpool's transfer policy and Brendan Rodgers' tactical setup that they seem unable to make good use of someone who still has as much to offer as Gerrard does. For most of this season he's been viewed as some kind of weak link -- a passenger, even -- by a lot of supporters. Compare that with the plaudits Frank Lampard is quite rightly receiving at Manchester City.

Gerrard has always been a better player than Lampard, and there is no physical reason he could not be contributing as much as the older Lampard is doing for City. The major difference is that City have a much-better supporting cast and a tactical setup that allows Lampard to focus on what he can do rather than one that exposes him for what he is no longer physically able to do.

It is time for Gerrard to move on, but it says as much about Liverpool's present failings as a club as it does about his own decline.

SK: I think that's a fair comment. There has already been quite a lot of murmuring about how often he has been asked to play this season and how he has been used.

The Steven Gerrard of the Rafael Benitez era would have been an absolute natural for the swashbuckling style of Rodgers. The Gerrard who played just behind Fernando Torres was lethal enough, but just imagine him playing behind Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. It would have been absolute carnage.

It could also be his undoubtedly correct assessment of how close Liverpool are to a title challenge now, i.e., not very. Last season was his last shot, and he knows it. I would say, however, that Lampard seems happy enough to play his bit part at City, while I imagine that would be purgatory to someone like Gerrard. His own wishes and regard for his fitness and role in the team have played a part here.

Gerrard's crowning moment in a Reds shirt was dragging his side back from the brink to win the Champions League in 2005.

DU: True, but it's much easier accepting a bit-part role in a team that's challenging at the top. Had Liverpool spent more wisely and assembled a better side, maybe he'd feel differently.

How will he be remembered in a Liverpool shirt?

SK: As the man who made the impossible possible in the Champions League final back in 2005.

As one of the greatest who ever wore the red shirt.

As a touchstone; always a thought in the back of every supporter's mind that Liverpool weren't beaten yet if Gerrard was in the side.

As a player with the passing of Graeme Souness, the energy of Emlyn Hughes, the attacking instincts of Terry McDermott, the shooting power of Jimmy Case and the loyalty of Dalglish. Just one of those qualities in a single player might be enough in the modern era.

As someone who hated Everton as much as the fans did, with the power and privilege to make them suffer endlessly.

As somebody who could make fans of other clubs apoplectic with rage simply because they knew that he belonged to Liverpool and Liverpool belonged to him.

As one of the greatest of his time and the pinnacle, the embodiment of what a modern Liverpool player should strive to be: talented, passionate and loyal.

DU: I can't really add much to that. I don't think there will ever be another local lad who comes through the ranks and even comes close to emulating what Gerrard did for Liverpool.

Moving on -- how will you replace him?

DU: You can't replace the iconic figure who has contributed so much over the 16 years or so since he burst on to the scene. That's simply never going to happen -- you don't ever replace such legendary, long-serving players.

Oops...
Rightly or wrongly, many will remember Gerrard's infamous slip against Chelsea that turned out to be crucial in deciding the 2013-14 title race.

Manchester United can never replace Ryan Giggs, Chelsea will never find another John Terry and Liverpool will never again find one player who contributes as much as Gerrard has. Remember, this is a midfielder who has scored in an FA Cup final, a League Cup final, a UEFA Cup final and a Champions League final. You don't replace that.

However, replacing the 34-year-old central midfielder who can no longer play the kind of up-tempo, high-energy pressing game favoured by Rodgers should not actually be that difficult. Unfortunately, there is little or nothing to suggest those in charge of transfers at Liverpool are capable of managing even that, hence the number of games Gerrard has had to start this season. In consecutive summers Liverpool will have lost Jamie Carragher, Luis Suarez and now Gerrard. They failed to even come close to replacing the first two, but maybe it will be third-time lucky?

SK: There has been a small yet noticeable return recently to what Liverpool were good at last season: pace, skill and movement.

Gerrard's worth to last season's team was inevitably seen by some as something that could last for years, but the evidence to support that in the following season has been a bit sketchy.

Whatever changes need to be made without Gerrard would have had to be made sooner or later. Whether it was the club's or the player's choice, it's been decided to make those changes sooner.

That will be scary, but the inevitable can only ever be delayed. It can never be postponed forever.

Whatever the solution, it will take more than one player to do it. Every shirt will have to be filled with quality from now on. No passengers. Gerrard will not be there to do the job of two men anymore.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.