Liverpool have a better chance of succeeding without Gerrard.
Steven Gerrard was criticised this week by Sven Goran Eriksson because of his loyalty to his boyhood club and his desire to stay at Liverpool to win the league. He was criticised because Sven does not believe that Liverpool will win the league in the coming years which will mean Gerrard will never win the Premier League.
In some ways it is sad to think that a talent like Gerrard will not win the Premier League, yet it also no coincidence that he has not won it. The truth is that Gerrard may actually be the reason why Liverpool have not won the league.
In recent seasons Liverpool have regressed from a Champions League side to a Europa League side. Their demise has been quite startling, a mixture of poor management on the pitch and off it has contributed to a depleted team and poor performances on the pitch.
With the new owners FenwaySports Group investing in the club, the signs are that the future of Liverpool is more positive. Yet with the investment given to Dalglish and now Rodgers, the expectations are now heightened to unrealistic heights. After two games and one point talk is of winning the league or at least getting back into the top four. It all seems a little early to predicted such heightened wishes, especially with the arrival of a manager who wishes to implement a style of play which will not generate success overnight.
The icon of English football
After hearing Sven’s comments regarding Steven Gerrard his points are valid; Liverpool are not in a position to win the league. The side which seriously challenged and which should have won it in 08/09 is no more. The players brought in recent years are not of the required quality to challenge for the top four, yet alone the title and it will take much more investment and time for the club to reach the heights of its successful history.
Yet what Sven’s comments brought to my attention was the impact of Gerrard on Liverpool. Steven Gerrard has become the prized asset of English football this past decade, his work rate, commitment and ability to score vital goals has made him a real icon in English football.
His popularity is higher than that of Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and England’s finest midfielder of the past twenty years, Paul Scholes. All who have won more and achieved more than Gerrard.
The truth is that Gerrard has been part of the reason for England’s lack of success based on the decision to choose him over Scholes in that central midfield area. I believe the England team would have been better with Scholes than Gerrard. I also believe that Liverpool could have won the title if Gerrard was not part of the side.
The problem that is Steven Gerrard
When Rafa Benitez was the manager of Liverpool he possessed some excellent footballers, notably Mascherano, Xavi Alonso and Fernando Torres. All three have left the club and gone on to be successful, whereas Gerrard has stayed and the side has regressed.
An impressive article from Jonathon Wilson looked at the impact Gerrard has at Liverpool. He talks of Gerrard being a “problem” rather than "solution" for Liverpool. In the article Wilson speaks of Gerrard of upsetting the balance of the sides he plays for; “take a cohesive team, add Gerrard, and the result has been a shambles.”
His argument centres around a cultural issue with the English game. It is as Wilson remarks, the “Roy of the Rovers” mentality that the “star” will come up with the goods in the final minute and save the day. This is seen so much in how Gerrard plays. His ability to score vital goals has made him a popular figure, yet would Liverpool actually be better and more successful without him?
Is Gerrard over valued by the fans and the media in this country because of his ability to seemingly “win the game” for his side when it matters? We all know the late goal against Olympiakos to put Liverpool through to the knockout round of the Champions League, the goal against West Ham in the FA Cup final and of course the 2005 Champions League final where Gerrard is credited for bringing his side back from the brink.
Yet it is important to note that it was not Gerrard but Benitez who influenced that game, his decision to put Hamman in that defensive midfield position gave Liverpool the solidity defensively that they lacked in the first half when they were down 3-0. Of course Gerrard contributed yet the media appear to give him every bit of credit, which is wrong.
A good player yet lacks the discipline to be world class
It is commonly accepted that Gerrard lacks tactical discipline. Although a fine individual player he is not a good "footballer", he lacks the discipline and ability to adhere to tactical instructions which for the top sides, and importantly successful sides, is a key requisite.
His wish to always play the “Hollywood” ball is well known also, and although successful sometimes, it mostly misses it target and thus carelessly loses possession for his side. The Match of the Day culture fail to see the “mistakes” made from Gerrard whose contribution on highlights only ever show his successful passes and shots. Yet as stats are becoming more common for people to view and fans are becoming more educated, people are starting to realise that he is not a help but often a hindrance to his side.
A great comparison to Gerrard is Michael Carrick. The antithesis to Gerrard in terms of a midfield player. Carrick is content to stay out the limelight and fulfil his job both effectively and with discipline. Many do not rate Carrick highly, yet I would argue that these people are those “highlights” fans who wish only to see the ball go in the net and not the see the build up and importance of tactical discipline of which Carrick gives and Gerrard lacks. Compare Carrick’s success to Gerrard and it seems clear who is the more efficient player.
It would appear that Gerrard’s problem has been that he has simply tried to do too much. He his wish to win the league for his boyhood club, the club he captains and for the fans he adores has actually prevented it happening. His desire to do it all himself has meant the positions he takes up close space for others and at times means they have to cover for him.
He offers very little tactically in a modern game of which tactics are so important. Sure they’ll be some games when that bit of magic is needed, yet over the whole season, discipline is key.
Liverpool fans idolise their local heroes yet the key players for them were those undervalued. Xabi Alonso was grossly under-rated during his time at Anfield yet he was the technical heart of the side. With Gerrard in his peak then it was easier to think of him as the club's main man, yet success came from the solidity and discipline of the midfield, which did not feature Gerrrard.
Gerrard's contribution has been based on assists and goals, yet as these stats are declining is he needed in this new Liverpool era?
A square peg in a round hole?
No outfield player had a worse pass completion percentage than Steven Gerrard in Liverpool's opener with West Brom. The Liverpool captain had just 82% accuracy in what was a side attempting to retain possession and implement slow build up play. His average pass accuracy over the two games has been 80% with Allen's in contrast being 94.7%.
The story was the same against Manchester City. Many pundits praised Gerrard's performance but he only had a 78% pass accuracy, this is quite shocking and completely against Rodgers philosophy of ball retention and short passing. Gerrard was guilty of losing possession too easily, especially seeking those risky "Hollywood" passes, where he attempted ten. Surely Rodgers would not be pleased.
The injury to Lucas gave Rodgers a decision, put Allen or Gerrard in that deeper role. Many have postulated that Gerrard could play the "Pirlo" role at Liverpool, which although I agree he could do, does not fit into Rodgers short passing game. Allen dropped back and play the “Busquets” role, which he did excellently.
It is impressive how well Allen has seemingly fitted in to his new club yet his manager knows he cane play this system. Rodgers knew he had to get Allen, a player he believes in him completely. He clearly felt Gerrard could not do this role. Allen moves the ball on and dictates Liverpool's play and adheres to Rodgers system, Gerrard is clearly struggling to adapt to this new expectation.
Now with the arrival of Nuri Sahin Liverpool have acquired their Xabi Alonso replacement. Alsono who was so instrumental in Liverpool’s title push has been sorely missed since he left and Sahin, who was himself instrumental in the success of Dortmund in 10/11 is a perfect addition to Rodgers side. What it means though is that there will be no room for Gerrard in that midfield area.
Therefore Rodgers faces a massive decision of whether to drop Gerrard. For the good of the side and thus his style of play, dropping Gerrard seems a simple choice. Yet unfortunately this is Steven Gerrard, captain of Liverpool and the fans hero, Rodgers will be playing a serious political game with his reputation by choosing to drop Gerrard.
The same situation was seen last season with Villas-Boas and Lampard, a player he did not think suited his style of play. Yet the outcry from the fans and importantly media was vicious and it certainly contributed to the early exit of AVB from Stamford Bridge.
Handling Gerrard will be key for Rodgers’ success and long term future. With Lucas injured again, Gerrard may be used with Sahin and Allen, although Shelvy appears to be more malleable to adapt to Rodgers system. Yet it may be better for him to persevere with Gerrard in the hope he can mould him to suit the style he requires or perhaps hope Gerrard suffers another injury of which has blighted his career in recent seasons. Either way, Gerrard represents a problem for the manager, stay with him and damage his style of play or drop him and face the abuse which will come.
Gerrard clearly wants to win the title for his club and wants to be a big part of the team. However, there appears to be a clash of styles between Gerrard and Rodgers. For Gerrard his future lies in a deeper role, where he could play the "Pirlo" role well, however he will need to move clubs to play this role and sustain his career. As for Liverpool, if they wish to progress up the league and have any chance of winning the title in the coming years, they may actually have a better chance of succeeding without Gerrard.
Sven was right, both player and club need Gerrard to leave for either to have a chance of winning the title. How ironic.