Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will leave his boyhood club this summer with a heavy heart but he plans to return in a different role in the future.
The midfielder, who turns 35 in May, is likely to seek a different challenge in Major League Soccer in the United States after confirming he would not be accepting the offer of a new contract to extend his stay beyond this season.
It is wrench for the Huyton-born star to end an association with the club which began when he was eight years old but with former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier tipping him to become manager one day, there remains a hope Gerrard could once again be an influential figure at Anfield.
“This has been the toughest decision of my life and one which both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time,” Gerrard said.
Gerrard has followed the example set by close friend Jamie Carragher two years ago in going public with his decision early to prevent ongoing debate about whether he would stay or go.
However, unlike Carragher — who retired aged 35 in 2013 and went straight into a job as a television pundit — he still feels there is plenty of life left in his legs to continue playing elsewhere.
But with the former England captain ruling out joining a club which could ever face Liverpool in competition, it puts America top of his likely destinations, although there is interest from the Middle East.
“I am making the announcement now so that the manager and the team are not distracted by stories or speculation about my future,” he added.
“My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over.”
While his advisors begin the search for a new club, Gerrard insists he remains fully focused on the rest of Liverpool’s season.
Despite reduced playing time this season as Rodgers tries to manage his captain, whom he admits cannot play three matches in a week to the level either of them would want, there will be no holding back from Gerrard.
“One point that is important to make is that from now until the last kick of the last game of the season, I will be as fully committed to the team as I ever have been and giving everything I have to help Liverpool win games,” said the midfielder, who has won every English domestic honour apart from the league, despite coming agonisingly close last season.
“I can’t thank Brendan (Rodgers), the owners and everyone at the club enough for how they’ve handled this and I am leaving on great terms.
“My final message is for the people who make Liverpool FC the greatest in the world — the supporters.
“It has been a privilege to represent you, as a player and as captain.
“I have cherished every second of it and it is my sincere wish to finish this season and my Liverpool career on a high.”
Rafael Benitez, who led Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, said: “After the Champions League final he had the ambition to improve and be the best midfielder in the world. He was always amazing and had passion. Technically he is very good, physically very strong. You couldn’t stop him. They are losing a player who everybody knows. He changed the games against Olympiacos (in 2004), AC Milan (Champions League final) and West Ham (FA Cup final). I think he was one of the best, if not the best.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved