As things turned out, at least Brendan Rodgers had more cause to be grateful than most that last Saturday saw Steven Gerrard play his last match for Liverpool at Anfield for now, at least. The media hullabaloo that greeted the team captain at the weekend detracted in no small way from another poor Liverpool performance. This is, after all, a team that has won just two of its last eight Premier League matches, and those wins came against the currently far from mighty Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers. It would be unsurprising to find out that Rodgers had quietly presented Gerrard with a jeroboam of champagne for Services To Distraction From Structural Issues.
Prior to the match, much had been made in the media of the £1,300 prices that some tickets for this farewell that some had been paying through agencies for this match, but to some extent this particular pre-story was entirely apposite to mark the end of this particular player’s career. The career of Steven Gerrard has spanned seventeen years during which professional football has been gentrified beyond recognition, and in an age when some supporters seem happy to pay four figure sums for season tickets whilst the game itself has become less a sport and more an offshoot of the light entertainment industry, it’s only to be expected that the farewell tour of such a regular Premier League fixture would persuade those with either deep pockets or understanding creditors might inspire such fevered excitement.
The elevation of Steven Gerrard to a god-like status amongst supporters of the club that he played for is nothing new particularly new. What is new, however, is the attention that such behaviour receives. Football supporters are always keen to mock those of other clubs who indulge in such behaviour (often whilst doing it ourselves – we’re not exactly known for our moral consistency either), but such behaviour on all sides seems to be a symbol of a shift in the attitudes of modern supporters themselves. If football is a branch of celebrity culture now, then the highest profile players are the stars of this universe, and this gilded world, in which many seem to support players rather than clubs could well be the shape of things to come.
In the case of a one club man like Steven Gerrard, of course, supporting both the player and the club is easier, and it is surely as likely as not that he will return to the club in some form another, quite possibly as soon as a loan spell next season, when MLS is on it’s break, or alternatively at a later date in a coaching or ambassadorial capacity. For now, though, Liverpool supporters may well feel that the club just doesn’t quite feel the same when the players take to the pitch again at the start of next season. When we see the same players, week in week out, over a period of years, this is inevitable, but time marches on, and for clubs such as Liverpool, for whom the narrative of the history of the club carries an emotional resonance for all attached to it, the next job is to start building new talismanic figures around which a team can be built.
Elsewhere, the reactions to his career and its end have been as polarised as we might expected. On the one hand, Steven Gerrard had flaws in his game that were obviously apparent. The occasional rushes of blood to the head – most obvious of which came against Manchester United in the Premier League earlier this season, a match the ramifications of which Liverpool appear to have suffered from ever since – and those infamous “Hollywood” passes that did often seem to miss their mark. On the other hand, however, there can be little question that he was an extremely accomplished player over a significant period of time. For England against Germany in Munich in 2001 and for Liverpool against Milan in Istanbul in 2005 he proved this beyond reasonable doubt. Current football culture, however, doesn’t really do nuance, though.
That his last home match for Liverpool should have been such a media event was, perhaps, a reflection upon how little else has been going on of interest in the Premier League. With the title, the Champions League places and two of the three relegation places already decided, the voracious twenty-four hour news media has needed something to fill the news vacuum, and Steven Gerrard’s departure from Anfield, whether on a high or a low, has provided easy pickings for those who like a beginning, a middle and an end to a story. Crystal Palace, of course, spoiled the narrative of some with an accomplished performance and a comfortable win, but for every Liverpool supporter left disheartened by the result there were ten who support other clubs and found their schadenfreude levels reaching levels of apoplexy following another lacklustre Liverpool performance. It was, in that respect, a no lose story for media, at least.
This looks like being an uncomfortable end of season for Liverpool Football Club, with the departure of Steven Gerrard, speculation over the future of Brendan Rodgers and the Raheem Sterling situation, which promises to be a soap opera which will run for a while at least, thanks in no small part to the player’s seemingly verbally trigger-happy agent, combining to leave an air of uncertainty over Anfield that hasn’t been seen since the worst transgressions of Luis Suarez or perhaps even the toxic duo that was Gillett and Hicks. Considering the tabloidisation of Premier League football, however, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Liverpool need a little rebuilding of the club is to regain its poise after disappointments of recent years. The problem that the club faces, however, is that a combination of the culture and expectations of the time are not conducive to patience or transition. The clock will start ticking again once the transfer window reopens, but for the first time in a decade and a half the object of permanence that Steven Gerrard represented to Liverpool supporters will not be there to ameliorate this. Not for now, at least. Small wonder if Liverpool supporters go into the summer of 2015 with a feeling of some trepidation.
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