What could possibly be the most dreaded word in Gerrard’s dictionary?
It wouldn’t be a major surprise if he proclaims ‘injuries’ and ‘infections’ run out as joint winners. After all, Liverpool’s inspirational skipper has suffered a brutal combination of both, thrusting him away from the arduous media spotlight over the past year.
As probably the proudest product Liverpool’s Academy has ever produced, he has pulled the club out of the mire on countless occasions when hope seemed to have evaporated. The memories of Istanbul and Cardiff come flooding back to mind, where rabbits have been pulled from the hat to salvage what had seemed like impossible situations.
Little wonder that there is often widespread admiration for his marvellous, all-round, and astounding ability to lead by example, then.
Moreover, the ‘one-club man’ concept that was bought by Gerrard was so unlike other multi-millionaire pros that only one conclusion was derived – Gerrard simply loved this club – which layered on to the already outlandish praise he was afforded by everyone else.
However, in light of the injury hell which has limited his peak footballing years, it seems evident that Gerrard has faded into the shadow. There exists a general consensus that his powers have been diminished, and Liverpool must start preparing for life after him. Already, the likes of Shelvey and Henderson has been bandied about as future Gerrard replacements.
Critics propose that this is due to the fact Gerrard has rarely featured in Dalglish’s side since he took over the reins last January – most notably due to niggling infections with his groin and ankle. There is little doubt that this has decelerated his football career to a momentary halt, restricted to a minor role of cheering his team-mates from the stands which has undoubtedly left him frustrated. They also point to the fact that a mere six months later, Gerrard will turn 32, and like Rio Ferdinand, he might need to accept that time is against him.
Yet, should we pause, think, and question logic here? Should instead try to defy conventional wisdom?
Indeed, why not?
The league title remains elusive to Gerrard’s glittering collection of medals. It heads the pack of priorities on Gerrard’s wish list. With Fenway Sports Group providing the financial armoury and Dalglish at the helm, several astute signings have made Liverpool a force to be reckoned with once again. Slowly but surely, Liverpool will have the capability of delivering the title after more than 20 years.
It is something Gerrard dreams to be part of. He is adamant that it can happen within a few years and is desperate to be involved in all of it, perhaps as a captain, welcoming the title back to Anfield after its last time in 1990.
Whilst treatment is torturous, burdensome, and prolonging, whatever dished out in the medical room might come to fruition years down the road. Looking back, he might herald it as the defining moment in his career, even though it was spent on the sidelines.
At the time of writing, Liverpool are in the midst of preparing a new contract extension for Gerrard, which is likely to see him beyond 2013, the year his current contract expires.
Indeed, it is apt that Liverpool are looking ahead for the future with him – he remains a compulsory element of the club even if he isn’t involved in on-pitch matters.
The other reason, on why conventional wisdom must be doubted, is that Gerrard, is Gerrard himself.
As Rob Hughes so reflectively wrote in The Sunday Times on 16 July 2000: “Now there comes the second season, when opponents know Gerrard’s strengths and he has to claim a place from a fit, enlarged Liverpool squad. Achieve that, and the next decade is his”.
Some time after his first-ever appearance for Liverpool, he was beset by back problems that required specialized attention from a German sports scientist, who concluded it was due to accelerated growth and excessive playing during his schoolboy years. His back problems ran into further complications, affecting various leg muscles and also his groin (hear hear).
Steven Gerrard, having battled injury concerns early in his career, told the Daily Mirror in 2000: “In the summer, there was a time when I was getting trouble every time I went out to play or train. It was problem after problem. I was thinking in the back of my mind – am I going to get injured today? It keeps coming from my back. It makes other parts of my body niggle – my groin and my hamstrings.”
Despite those early setbacks and personal insecurities, he has dusted himself down, proved observers wrong and went on to register 50 appearances for Liverpool that very season – notching up 10 goals, as the Reds marched towards a treble emphatically.
He has never looked back since. More than 550 career appearances and 141 career goals later, he is quite possibly, the best midfielder since the turn of the millennium.
And with that, Rob Hughes’ words have never rang so true. The decade did belong to Liverpool’s No. 8.
And as Steven Gerrard goes through another period of injuries, it is perhaps best if you not bet against him to return stronger than ever.
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