If fate has any sense of justice then Steven Gerrard will say goodbye to Liverpool by lifting the FA Cup in his last ever game at Wembley on his 35th birthday; but right now he is in danger of leaving with a nagging feeling of regret, writes Chris Hatherall.
Last year it was Gerrard’s unfortunate slip against Chelsea that effectively ended Liverpool’s dream of winning the Premier League for the first time; a memory that comes flooding back every time rival teams chant about Demba Ba’s crucial goal that day in April 2014.
Now a petulant stamp on Ander Herrera just seconds after coming on against Manchester United at Anfield has placed a question mark over his club’s bid to finish in the top four.
Given everything that Gerrard has done for Liverpool over 18 years it would be a travesty if those incidents, one unlucky and the second regrettable, in any way clouded his incredible achievements on Merseyside.
Remember it was Gerrard whose drive and skill won the club FA Cups and League Cups.
It was Gerrard whose sheer determination dragged the club from 3-0 down against AC Milan to become European Champions in 2005.
It was Gerrard who pulled on the captain’s armband in the most difficult period in Liverpool history and single-handedly dragged them towards the light at the end of tunnel.
Now that same drive, that same passion, has cost him. Having come on against old rivals United at half-time he managed only two touches before receiving a red card from referee Martin Atkinson.
The first, a tackle on Juan Mata, was cheered to the rafters by the Kop and seemed to set the tone for a second-half fightback from Brendan Rodgers’ side.
But the second, an angry stamp on the same player, saw him rightly sent off.
There is no chance of Liverpool fans allowing that one moment of stupidity to override almost two decades of commitment; for them Gerrard is the original ‘one of our own’. But it would also be a huge disappointment if media and pundits took it as a opportunity to kick a player playing his last ever season in England before heading to LA Galaxy in the United States.
Perhaps what Liverpool manager Rodgers may reflect on in a quieter time is that he unwittingly played a part in Gerrard’s nightmare. Leaving his captain, an emotional and passionate character, on the bench in such a huge fixture, created a huge pressure on the captain to make an instant impact when finally arriving on the field in place of Adam Lallana.
And that is exactly the reason why Gerrard feels it would be better to leave now than spend another season in and out of a side that no longer relies on him as its focal point.
Big players have dealt with these kind of moments before, of course. David Beckham followed his sending-off for England against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup by winning the Treble with United; John Terry recovered from missing a penalty in the Champions League final by guiding his team to so many more victories.
But what makes this latest error of judgment so painful for Gerrard is that there is so little opportunity to make amends. If selected, and that remains a major doubt, he has a maximum of eight games left in his Liverpool career to say goodbye in a more appropriate and more fitting way.
The three matches Gerrard will miss as a result of his red card are big, big dates; away at Arsenal on April 4 — a game that will now go a long way to deciding whether Liverpool’s top four hopes are still alive — an FA Cup replay against Blackburn and a home fixture against Newcastle.
If all goes well his next opportunity to ‘put things right’ will be an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on April 19; with the possibility of a dream final against Arsenal on May 30 to follow.
That is the way Steven Gerrard should be remembered, the way he should be celebrated. Not like this.
Not as a waning force who lost his cool and cost his team a chance of victory.
Football owes him more than that.
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