Saturday marked Steven Gerrard’s 16-year anniversary as a first team player for Liverpool.
To celebrate, manager Brendan Rodgers dropped Gerrard from his starting lineup. Oops, somebody didn’t get the memo. Okay, so Gerrard was ‘rested’ rather than ‘dropped’ but as he nears the twilight of his career, expect to see this happen more often this season.
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Gerrard, 34, played the full 90 minutes against Crystal Palace last Sunday and then again on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League against Ludogorets. While Liverpool have a game against Leicester City this Tuesday.
Against Stoke City on Saturday, he jumped off the bench for the final 15 minutes and helped Liverpool grind out a win with his extra bit of quality. That said, is Liverpool’s captain ready to take a backseat role at Anfield?
Following the crucial win against Stoke, their first victory in seven games across all competitions, Rodgers explained why he left Gerrard out.
“Steven is at the part of his career where he’s not going to be playing in every game and every minute of every game,” Rodgers said. “He’s played against Crystal Palace and in Ludogorets, where he was outstanding and put a huge amount of effort into the game. We’ve got other players who can come in and do the job, and Steven understands that.”
Gerrard has never been in this position before at Liverpool.
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When Liverpool came so close to winning the Premier League title last season, the only trophy he has not won with Liverpool during his 16-year career as a professional, Gerrard only had to focus on the PL so he could play once a week and get away with it. This season the Reds are in the last eight of the League Cup and have Champions League commitments as well as the PL. At his age Gerrard’s fitness has to be managed.
“We’ve got good players on the sidelines who are fresh,” Rodgers said. “Steven came on and gave a great contribution towards the end. His experience and stature in the game helped us at that point, but I the team overall was excellent. He’s a wonderful man and he’s very much about the team. He understands. Of course, every player would love to play in every minute of every game, but the reality is that at this level and how competitive it is and the squad that we have here, we can’t be just relying on Steven in every single game. He’s been brilliant for me in my time here and he will continue to be. But we’ve talked and looked at when he can play.”
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With many players questioned since arriving this summer after the cash windfall of Luis Suarez’s departure, Gerrard is still delivering. Alongside him on the bench on Saturday, Gerrard had the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic. Combined, those players cost the club $146 million over the offseason. The commitment and quality of the legendary Liverpool midfielder cannot be questioned, but father time is catching up with him. Fast.
16 years since he made his Liverpool debut, Gerrard will now have to adapt to being used off the bench as an impact player as his career winds down. There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at greats such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United and how they were used sensibly by Sir Alex Ferguson to prolong their careers.
Gerrard has something in common with those players and you can always count on the Liverpool captain to be a professional.
“I wasn’t actually aware it was 16 years until I walked into the changing rooms and saw the programme, but with Steven you wouldn’t know whether he was playing or not because he’s a guy who is very much a team player,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great guy and he always plays a part in our work. I need to look at each game and position the players and team that I think can get the result.”
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With Gerrard currently negotiating a new contract with Liverpool, it still remains to be seen whether or not he will stay with his hometown club after this season. If he does, his role will change. But given his age, this was to be expected.
The most important thing is, 16 years on Gerrard still makes a difference and comes up big in pivotal moments when Liverpool really need him. For that reason alone, he should remain at Anfield. Even if that means he will become an impact player off the bench.