The English Premier League has recently lost some of its greatest characters to the footballing abyss of retirement. Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Alex Ferguson have joined Sol Campbell, Roy Keane, Patrick Viera, Alan Shearer and numerous other amazing legends who have graced the English game since its rebranding in the early 90s. Liverpool FC is without doubt, one of the greatest clubs in the history of football. Numerous greats have graced the hallowed Anfield turf, leaving eternal impressions on the hearts of the fan base and indelible legacies on the history of this football club. We have seen the transition of captains since the inception of the club, but one stands out proudly as not only a captain, but the heartbeat of the team, he is STEVEN GEORGE GERRARD.
Gerrard started playing football firstly for hometown team Whiston Juniors, where he was noticed by Liverpool scouts. He later joined the Liverpool Academy at the age of nine. He then had trials with various clubs at fourteen, but his success wasn’t immediate as he never made it into the England schoolboys’ team. His trials included one at Manchester United, which he claimed in his 2006 autobiography was done “to pressure Liverpool into giving him a YTS contract.” Gerrard signed his first professional contract with Liverpool on 5th November 1997 but waited till 29th November 1998 before he made his Liverpool first-team debut in a Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers as a last-minute substitute for Vegard Heggem.
Since he made his full debut in the Liverpool FC senior team, he has been an inspiration to fans of the club both on and off the pitch. Watching him play for the club which he has always supported remains a sight to behold. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, puts in 101% always and motivates his team mates without end. This was quickly spotted by the then manager, Gérard Houllier who made him the captain of the club in October 2003, saying that he recognized Gerrard had demonstrated leadership qualities early on, but needed him to mature some more. Prior to that, he was the assistant to club captain Sami Hyypia, a position he held just for a year before taking over the mantle of leadership.
For almost a decade now, Liverpool FC has been built around Steven Gerrard. He has been drafted from one position to another, playing in almost every game, even with injuries on some occasions. He has been the engine room of the team, making sure the team ticks and getting the ball to the forwards as best he can. Torres was a good beneficiary of that, as more than 50 percent of his goals while playing for the club came from assists from Steven Gerrard. Moreover, his defensive ability cannot be overlooked, as he makes sure he returns to cover the defence whenever they are under pressure. Gerrard came second only to Kenny Dalglish in the list of the “100 Players Who Shook The Kop” Liverpool fan poll. In 2004, he exhibited his true loyalty to the club by turning down a 20 million pounds move to Chelsea FC. The next year, the same club came calling, and he rejected a club-record £100,000-a-week offer from Liverpool. Liverpool chief executive as at that time, Rick Parry conceded the club had lost Gerrard, saying, “Now we have to move on. We have done our best, but he has made it clear he wants to go and I think it looks pretty final.” The next day, Gerrard signed a new four-year deal as Parry blamed the earlier breakdown of talks on miscommunication between the two sides. Isn’t this player a true lover of the club? One can’t imagine this team without him, as some say ‘no Steven Gerrard, no Liverpool FC’. This guy’s talent is awesome, especially when one considers just how prodigious his strength, determination, drive, passing, shooting, tackling ability et al are. He is the only player in history to have scored in an FA Cup Final, a League Cup Final, a UEFA Cup Final and a UEFA Champions League Final. Now that’s greatness.
Unfortunately, he is coming into the twilight of his career, yet the club doesn’t have a replacement for him. It is imperative for the club to do so now, as a stitch in time will always save nine. For someone to fill the big shoes Gerrard will leave behind on retirement, firstly, he has to be a passionate fan of the club with precocious talent to match. Also, he has to be a team leader, a role model and most importantly, a Liverpudian. One who will see it as an honour to don the timeless red jersey of Liverpool FC and play for the club as long as his legs can carry him. Liverpool have brought in some young talented players from the club’s youth team but none can be said to possess anywhere near the potential of a future Steven Gerrard. There are now many options in every department of the team, except for that Central midfield role. They have seen the likes of Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen try their best to play that role, but fall short by a long mile.
At 33, Gerrard has a maximum of five more years to go as a top level footballer. This means that now is the time to get his successor, so he can be nurtured by ‘the General’ himself as he is so fondly called on Merseyside. Prayers have even been offered by some eccentric Liverpool fans for Gerrard’s wife to bear a male son- a son who could be trained by the General to eventually take his place in the Liverpool team. That shows just how valuable he is to this football club. As he has aged, his performances have gradually reduced and Liverpool have suffered as a result. This stresses why it is of paramount importance to get his replacement in as soon as possible. If Brendan Rodgers is really serious about getting Liverpool back to the top, then losing Luis Suarez should just be one of his worries as the chasm that Gerrard’s injuries and retirement will produce is a much bigger potential bother.
To move this club forward, a replacement must be found. Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club have been tasked with the ultimate challenge of replacing a man who is basically irreplaceable both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Nothing was more glorious, more emotional, more exhilarating than a young Gerrard single handedly winning a game for Liverpool. The task of finding the new General has begun. Nothing will make me happier than his discovery because Liverpool FC needs a new leader . . . and they need him FAST!!! I wish the club the best of luck in this trying task.
By Chinedum ‘T Ray’ Izuwah . . . a lover of football
Follow him on Twitter @rayizuwah