There comes a moment in every season, usually around December/January, where Liverpool realize that they are out of the championship race and that the best that they can hope for is 4th place, and the Champions League place that comes with it. It’s then that they begin to talk of next season, about how they will regroup, and come back next season with a sustained championship challenge, that next season will be the season they have been waiting for 18 years. And come December/January of that season it is Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea fighting it out at the top with Liverpool again lagging behind and trying to hang on to 4th place. Steven Gerrard, Liverpools captain and driving force, knows this talk is not good enough and that things must improve.
When Liverpool reached last seasons Champions League final, only to lose to AC Milan, the fans expected the team to carry that performance through to the new season, to finally give them hope of adding to their record 18 league titles. They have been waiting 18 years to make it 19, and will have to wait a while longer. Just as 3 years earlier, in Rafa Benitez first season in charge, when Liverpool won the Champions League, great things were expected the next season, and yet again all that was felt was disappointment. Last season the talk was that Liverpool just needed to add a top class striker and a winger to their squad and they would be up there with the big three. Fernando Torres arrived from Athletico Madrid and Ryan Babel from Ajax. Surely the jigsaw was complete? Yet again they have been left in mediocrity. While Torres has been a revelation, especially in his first season outside Spain, and is surely in contention for player of the year, Liverpool are even further behind the top 3. Torres goals have been flying in, when he has played, and only the incredible Christiano Ronaldo and dynamic Adebeyor have scored more in the league this season. While the team continues to struggle with Benitez clearly ineffectual rotation policy, it is captain Steven Gerrard who has the most to lose.
Gerrard has been Liverpools best player for a decade now. The life and blood of the team, who has almost single handedly driven them forward in the Champions League and carried them in the league. Liverpool have been as close to a one man team as is possible during the last few years. Without Gerrard it wouldn’t be a far stretch to suggest that they would be a lower half team. Add Torres to the mix and they have effectively become a two man team. If they lose any of these two players they’ll have a real struggle competing for 4th place never mind any talk of actually being championship challengers.
When Gerrard hangs up his boots, and no doubt he will go down as one of Liverpool’s best ever players, he will come up way short in terms of medals. He needs a league championship medal as much for himself as for Liverpool, and as much as he would love to give the Liverpool fans the title they crave, he may have to move on to fulfill the successes he himself needs. As much as Liverpool runs through his blood, any fans who think he will stay no matter what are living in hope more that realism. That glass was shattered when he handed in a transfer request after Liverpool champions League success three years ago. He should with that move, regardless of him deciding to stay, that his ambition will trump his heart. And the longer Liverpool fail to make a sustained challenge for the title, the more frustrated Gerrard will become and the more likely he will look to throw his lot in with one of the worlds biggest teams, more likely Madrid, Barcelona, Milan or Inter, then Chelsea or United, but I wouldn’t rule out that option either. Ambition is a hungry monster.
As much as Gerrards heart tells him that next year will be different, next year Liverpool will last the pace, they’ll buy well in the summer, and come back stronger and with endurance, the truth is far less likely. Each season Liverpool are able to improve their squad, but the so are the top three, and each season the gap in class between the top three and the rest gets bigger and not smaller. United added Hargreaves, Tevez, Anderson and Nani to their squad, Chelsea can buy whenever they feel like it, and Arsenal’s young players keep improving each passing season. Torres apart, and maybe Babel in the future, Liverpools acquisitions have been far less impressive. This is made all the more apparent when you look at the number of players Benitez has actually bought each season. For every Torres and Babel there are three or four unknown players who are never heard of, fail to make it, and are shipped off a season or so later. He may try to be a Wenger in terms of unearthing undiscovered gold, but his record shows he has a long way to go. If he continues with his rotation policy he wont be improving that record at Anfield in the near future.
Steven Gerrard will have to leave Liverpool if he has any aspirations of going down as one of the greats in the modern game. To do this he has to win titles, and that is something that he may never achieve at Anfield in the prime years of his career. All the worlds big teams will be watching closely, putting feelers out, and hoping. They would all love to have a Steven Gerrard in their engine rooms, and he may come calling sooner rather than later.