The Never Ending Story

How much longer must we endure the soap opera that is Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career?

A recap of the shenanigans of the last year to eighteen months is superfluous in the sense that you’re all totally aware of the facts of the case. But the spin I’m going to put on those facts has the advantage of leaving you in no doubt where I stand on the matter. So we’ll recap.

Roman Abramovich arrived in English football two years ago, saving Chelsea from Ken Bates’ hotel and conference centre money pit and simultaneously transforming the landscape of English football. When Jose Mourinho arrived, as he never failed to remind people, as one of only two European Cup winning managers in the Premiership – let us pause now to chuckle at the colossal irony of that observation in the post 26 May 2005 world; it’ll probably be the only chuckle to be had in this rant – the scales tipped even further in the direction of Stamford Bridge. It was only natural that they would try to hoover up the best players, and probably the supreme midfield talent of 2003/4 was one Steven Gerrard.

So Chelsea tapped up Gerrard, in much the manner that Liverpool tapped up Rafael Benitez. Not unreasonably, his head was turned. The richest club with the best manager in one of the sexiest cities in the world – whose head would not have been turned? He wanted to make the move, and considering the uncertain (to put it charitably) future of Liverpool FC, it made sense. He let Chelsea know that he was ready to take the plunge, and that should have been that.

Except it wasn’t. Influenced by the fury of those closest to him – not, as the rancid London press would have it, the influence of fantasy death threats from complete strangers – the consideration that maybe the new manager, with his just-as-impressive-as-Mourinho CV, could turn things around at Anfield, and the bizarre top-heavy nature of the Chelsea squad – it was hardly a gimme that Mourinho would make such a set-up work – he changed his mind. He decided to stay, and that should have been that.

Except it wasn’t. Liverpool were absolutely terrible for most of the season, incredibly slipping two points and one place back from the dire performance of the previous campaign. His comical own goal in the Carling Cup final denied us what seemed to be our best chance of a trophy and resurrected all the old resentments about his flirtation with the Lahndahners the previous summer. He was going to have to go elsewhere to satisfy his oft-stated desire to win trophies. Time to dust off the Chelsea contacts, and that should have been that.

Except it wasn’t. In a turn of the events that scarcely seems credible six weeks and multiple viewings on the video/DVD later, Liverpool won the biggest prize of them all, the European Cup. The European Cup, for chrissake! The subsistence diet of the Premiership was augmented by some of the most sumptuous feasts imaginable in Europe, veritable orgies of euphoria sweeping through Anfield with regularity. The scales of management swung away from Jose Mourinho in favour of Rafael Benitez, tactician extraordinaire, and Liverpool found themselves being lauded by such disparate legends as Diego Maradona and Johann Cryuff as the club to beat all clubs. At the end of it all, the man who had done most to destabilise the club got to put his mitts on the most glorious trophy in sport. Steven Gerrard and Liverpool, the most blessed combination imaginable. “How can I leave after a night like this?”, and that should have been the end of that.

Except it wasn’t. Perhaps stung by memories of the humiliation experienced last year, Benitez and Rick Parry were in no hurry to get Gerrard’s signature, lest he change his mind again. The noises stayed relentlessly positive, so they’d get around to it eventually. Unfortunately they miscalculated the extent to which Steven Gerrard’s ego needed massaging. All the gentle Scouse bonhomie conceals a towering belief in his own importance. That Benitez guy hasn’t a clue what he’s up to, the players he’s bringing in aren’t up to scratch in my not-so-humble opinion, they’re not sufficiently love-bombing a player of my stature – does the banner not say that “there is no man in this world as big as Ste Gerrard”? – I’m out of here. Shocked at the abruptness of it all, but comforted by the notion that their patent desire to keep him should keep his transfer fee stratospheric, Benitez and Parry shrugged their shoulders and let the world know that it was time to move on, and that should have been that.

And it still should be. I’m sick of it all. Certain people routinely bemoan the lack of an English core at Anfield, yet it is the one player who is Scouse and has been a Red for all of his days who has jerked us around the most, constantly looking at pastures which he seems to think are big enough to contain his manifest greatness. Compare and contrast his behaviour with that of Dietmar Hamann, who effectively took a pay cut and a less certain future to stay at Anfield. Even if Steven Gerrard has genuinely made up his mind to lash his future to the good ship Liverpool – a dubious assumption on the basis of his wretched procrastination up until now – does he really think he can put a lid on the speculation that will stick to him like manure to a blanket? Does he really think that, if after a dozen or so games Liverpool are not keeping pace with Chelsea, there won’t be a welter of tabloid stories telling us that “informed sources close to Steven Gerrard have told us EXCLUSIVELY that he is unhappy with the direction the club is taking” and so on and so forth? His exasperating inability to make up his mind and live with the consequences has turned Anfield life into a freak show, whether it be public shirt-burnings – note that only ‘Gerrard 17’ shirts were burned; penny for the guy? – or shame-faced press conferences from Captain Elephant Man.

When will it end? There are two outcomes which will stop the maelstrom of speculation in its tracks. Either a) Gerrard follows his instincts and goes, or b) we win the Championship. Seeing as a) is an option he isn’t brave enough to take, it’ll have to be b). You’re going to have to be amazing this season, Stevie, Maradona-in-Naples amazing. Anything less and you’ll be the butt of every bit of disgruntlement that the Kop can muster. And that’s a lot of disgruntlement. If that does happen, and an orchestra full of small violins strikes up, I hope someone will have the balls to remind him that he has no one to blame for his situation but himself.