Steven Gerrard stakes claim for grand final swansong
Smiling wryly, Steven Gerrard put it best. This had not been finest display in the blossoming red of Liverpool. Yes, he had showcased the genius that comes so easily to him, that which has the likes of Los Angeles Galaxy in the American Major League Soccer drooling at the prospect of securing his signature. There were glimpses of vintage Gerrard, his indomitable desire, vindicating his vow that his blood was red, referencing sliting veins to prove his point. But even then, it had not been among his finest.
His first embodied the sheer commitment which, to this day, serves as Gerrard’s driving force. At 34, the midfielder should not have even endeavoured, let alone execute it to perfection.
Most wouldn’t even try, but when the ball departed his feet, headed towards the waiting Javi Manquillo, there was no hesitation, no thought of waiting patiently on the edge of the box, on the outskirts, letting those younger than him take the stage, leaving the talented likes of Lazar Markovic and Philippe Coutinho to latch on the magnificent cross which followed from the buccaneering Manquillo. No, not at all.
He is sufficiently experienced to know when to wait and when to go. Observing the picture before him, Gerrard spotted an opening, one he deemed exploitable, one he, and his beloved Liverpool, could somehow profit from. It was not that it was amateurish from Adam Barrett and Jake Goodman, AFC Wimbledon’s two central defenders on loan from Gillingham and Milwall respectively, or that it encapsulated their meagre standing in League Two, reflecting the poor defending so common in the Premier League.
Gerrard’s run was incisive and penetrative, but perhaps it was his indomitable desire to convert the opportunity which impressed the most. The diving header was sufficient, bobbling in the bottom left-hand corner of the net as he wheeled away in celebration, showing why, perhaps, he is the MLS’s hottest desired property.
Winning the FA Cup would be the perfect send-off for Gerrard
What is clear, though, more than anything his that Gerrard will not simply depart quietly. And, perhaps, also that there is more than the midfielder can offer to Brendan Rodgers’s side over the next six months than mere experience. The panache and magnificence of his free-kicks remain unscathed, securing Liverpool a fourth-round FA Cup tie with Championship Bolton Wanderers with an excellent free-kick, executed to perfection.
But even then, there was more to the 34 year-old’s game. Yet another display of his commitment followed, retreating onto the goal-line to thwart Barrett from salvaging an unwelcome replay. As the clock winded down, Gerrard never stopped running, latching onto Wimbledon goalkeeper James Shea’s split stop from Coutinho to examine the once Arsenal prodigy.
Perhaps, though, the most telling aspect of his contribution at Kingsmeadow on Monday evening was his post-match interview, the composure to culminate a week of turbulence, speculation and incertitude. Perhaps it was poignant, emphasising how far he has come from his humble beginnings as a humble supporter in Whiston, Merseyside, but it did not detract from its significance.
"I always enjoy the FA Cup," he smiled. "I've grown up loving the competition. It is going to be my last time so I want to go all the way.. This is the beauty of the FA Cup, form goes out of the window. Wimbledon were honest and gave us a real test.” But then came the most meaningful segment from his media duties. "If I wasn't here playing for this team I would be in the stands watching.”
It is pertinent, given the manner in which the FA Cup final would embody all Gerrard is to his beloved club. A potential Wembley date falls on 30 May, Gerrard’s 35th birthday and the last game of the competitive season. It would, after all, be the perfect send-off for Liverpool’s man for all seasons.
It seems increasingly likely that the MLS, Los Angeles Galaxy in particular, will represent the proceeding stage in Gerrard’s fairytale career. It is believed the 34 year-old is on the brink of finalising an 18 month deal with David Beckham’s former club, comprising of a contract worth £6 million across a full term of the deal, one which will elevate him to one of the highest earners in the MLS.
A legacy to be cherished
It may be a long goodbye, but it may be one rooting from sagacity. Rodgers is intent on forming a youthful team, with vibrancy and fluency his main principals, but Gerrard’s legacy will live on forever. In Istanbul, in the 2005 Champions League final, 3-0 down to a dominant, stylish AC Milan side led by the sagacious Carlo Ancelotti, Gerrard never stopped believing, orchestrating a comeback that will stand as one of the finest of its kind.
There are many more moments which will preside over his status as a Liverpool legend, most notably Cardiff in the 2006 FA Cup final.
But perhaps his most cherished memory will be his loyalty, refusing moves to the mercurial elite of Chelsea and Manchester United, thus snubbing a seemingly elusive Premier League Winners’ Medal.
His last medal from his memorable times at Liverpool may, just maybe, be this year’s FA Cup final, as the Liverpool skipper stakes claim for a grand final swansong at Wembley.