A legend says goodbye



LIVERPOOL. — Steven Gerrard concedes there is a chance of tears but, raw emotions aside, the leaving of Liverpool will be as he had always envisaged.

The jaw-dropping moments that have defined his glittering career, the thunderbolt finish against Olympiakos, the remarkable glory of Istanbul and that FA Cup Final triumph over West Ham, have been forged by that innate ability to shape destiny.

Once more his timing is true.

“I have been honest enough to say when I retired from England at the start of the season, I thought I’d be playing on for another season after this one,” said Gerrard.

“But the way it’s gone, I’ve been getting messages and feelings that I’ve got the timing right.

“I’ve grown up alongside players like Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher, and we spoke about this a lot, about how you make sure the decision to go is right.

“I have always agreed, especially with Jamie, that you go a touch early, when people want a tiny bit more, rather than people on the terraces, or around the city, saying ‘you stayed too long,’ and they’re trying to kick you out of the door.”

The temptation today will be to lock the gates and barricade Gerrard inside. When he takes the microphone after the game with Crystal Palace, his 354th and final appearance for Liverpool at Anfield and the 709th overall, and offers an address to the supporters he is unsure how his senses will be pummelled.

“Carra said I can’t (cry) didn’t he? I don’t know, I really don’t know. I don’t want to, I want to try and control it, keep it in check and say goodbye properly to the fans,” he said.

His thoughts will drift back to the time when, as a starry-eyed eight-year-old, he would catch the bus in Huyton and head to the now demolished Vernon Sangster sports hall which doubled as Liverpool’s centre of excellence.

Or those days as an apprentice — still the happiest two years of his career — when running errands for Paul Ince was part of his routine.

Then he will be jolted back to the present and validation will come for his decision to go to LA Galaxy and MLS this summer. Of the opponents Gerrard has stared down, he confesses one he has been unable to conquer is age.

“At the end of the day, I’m 35 in a couple of weeks’ time and I’m not really sure how much more I could give the club at the level I’d like to,” he said. “The reality is that I’m getting too old for this level and maybe a different level will suit me more.”

It is a harsh appraisal in the context of what he still offers Liverpool, but throughout a career that has ebbed and flowed, rather than enjoying a sustained ascent, he has always been his biggest critic.

That Gerrard has wrestled back the initiative to finish on his own terms, as the goals against QPR and Chelsea illustrate, serves as testament to the determination which has forever underpinned the bond with his boyhood club.

When he was sent off just 25 seconds after being brought on as a substitute against Manchester United back in March, there was an initial sense of guilt before he was consumed by worry.

“Certainly sitting in the dressing room, I was thinking I don’t want it to fizzle out in that way, and people to remember a hamstring injury, the suspension and some bad performances,” he said.

“So I am really happy the last couple have gone well and I am hoping the final two games go in the same way.

“But I think people will remember me not for a period of four, five and six games or even six months. Once it’s actually done, and I am away, if my name ever comes up they will remember what I have done for 17 years rather than a short space of time. I hope they do, anyway.

“All the way through my career it has been a journey of ups and downs and different emotions. It’s been about being on top of the world, being on the floor, and I don’t think you achieve those highs without experiencing the pain and the lows as well.

“When I first started watching Liverpool on the terraces and playing football in the street it was a hobby for me. Playing for Liverpool was always a dream and one I never thought I’d get near.

“I remember getting on the bus to the Vernon Sangster with my dad, getting two buses in the rain and the cold and the ice and snow.

“So looking back now at what I’ve achieved I’m immensely happy and proud of how it’s gone. I’ve got a couple of regrets of course but that’s totally normal. I don’t think there are many footballers who finish a career and have only good memories.”

There is a Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA and League Cups, but, that he never won a league title grates. “That’s the biggest one, yes,” he says.

“I thought over the period, I’d get the chance to win it and I did on a couple of occasions, last season being the best chance. That makes it a bit more painful because it’s so recent.”

Yet Gerrard will tell you he has lived the dream that was mapped out in his head when kicking a ball around Ironside Road in Huyton.

To sum him up in a word, it is not “desire,” “talisman” or anything like that. It is simply “Liverpool.” Every decision he has taken since the age of eight has been with Liverpool in mind.

The moves he has rejected to clubs that would have left his trophy cabinet bulging, done because of the strength of feeling he has for Liverpool. The prospective signings he has telephoned to try and persuade them to become a team-mate, done because he wants Liverpool to be better.

The mind-set he has adopted on a Monday morning as he drives into Melwood, and the manner he has applied himself in training every day, done because he wants Liverpool to win at the weekend.

And when Brendan Rodgers told him in November his games would be restricted going forward, Gerrard also thought of Liverpool because he did not want to hang around, picking up wages because he knew the “buzz” would go.

“Money talks in certain situations and if an owner or a club wants a player that much, everyone has their price and sometimes clubs are prepared to go beyond it to make it happen and pay well over the odds,” said Gerrard.

“I just always had that connection with this club that I didn’t want to let go of. I had the chance to go probably five or six times, but when you play for your family, and your people, I always wanted to achieve success and win trophies to share with them.

“Not just go looking for glory really.”

It is perhaps not surprising that when he moves to the States with his young family, part of the experience will be for the better. It will serve as a release. He will follow from afar and is already thinking about when he will be back.

“I have been in the spotlight in this city, in this team, for 17 years and had some highs and some lows in that time,” he said.

“What some people don’t understand is sometimes it’s a tough place to live and be a player as well. So I think there will be a relief and a release in a couple of weeks and when I have been away for a few years.

“(I’m looking forward) to being able to come to the games as a supporter —to not have any pressure on myself and just watching the team and being part of the crowd.

“At the end of the day, underneath it all, I am a supporter. I always will be. So if there isn’t a role, it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’ll be coming to support the lads like a normal punter.”

Liverpool have already made moves to ensure he does not slip the net forever and Gerrard’s thoughts whirl towards what is now required to pep their fortunes and re-emerge as challengers.

Rodgers will lose a captain, a leader and a legend and someone for whom every defeat is like a dagger through the heart. Filling the chasm will require a responsibility shared.

“People say it’s vital and it’s crucial to have a Scouse heartbeat and local players. I think that is nice but I don’t think it is the be all and end all,” said Gerrard.

“I think it is important there is a group of players here that are very good footballers and they have got a coach in charge who is very good tactically. That is when success comes. I don’t think it will come down to whether there is a Scouse lad or a local lad in the team.

“That is just a bonus for the supporters because they can feel a connection. There is a maybe a bit more of a link there. But the important thing for the future is that we keep trying to attract world class players that can help contribute to success.

“That is how you win games and tournaments. It is as simple as that. I can only go off the last 12 months. In the cups, we have come mighty close, going out in two semi-finals We have done ok there.

“As far as the league is concerned, it was always going to be tough when we lost Luis (Suarez). I thought we could definitely finish in the top four positions if we kept Daniel Sturridge fit and he could perform like he did alongside Luis.

“To get into the top four, you are going to need striker who can score 25-30 goals a season. That is just the way it is. That is where we came short this season.

“I obviously don’t want to stand on the owners or Brendan’s toes – I am just speaking as a fan and having an opinion on where Liverpool are at this moment. That is what we need to do.

“We need to bring players in those forward positions that can score 25-30 goals and you will see Liverpool do an awful lot better next season.”

“I think we have got the right owners in charge, the right manager and there is a core of potential,” he said. “The important thing for me — and this is my opinion — is that if you can add some players to that who are ready . . . I wouldn’t buy any more potential in the short-term.

“I would buy players that are ready to come and fight and win and be successful.”

Towards the end of the interview, in which his honesty shines through as always, he is asked to score his time at the club.

“I’m not going to judge my Liverpool career out of 10. But I can judge two performances for you,” he said. “I’ll give Istanbul nine and I’ll give the last Man United one at home zero. Is that alright?”

Then he left. Walking straight out into the car park of the Centenary Stand where a series of pictures of Liverpool legends adorn a wall.

The one of Gerrard bears the words: “Once in a generation a player comes along to whom nothing seems impossible. Luckily that man wears the number eight shirt at Anfield.” Enough said. — The Daily Express