Last week, Liverpool club captain Steven Gerrard found himself in hot water following the Merseyside Derby. In a post-match interview, the frustrated Liverpool star made the outlandish claim that local rival Everton are a “long ball team” and compared their style to that of the ultra-physical Stoke City, stating also that Liverpool were the only team that tried to play football in their 2-2 draw.
Afterward, Gerrard apologized to Everton, who for the second consecutive season are outperforming the Reds in the Premier League table, and argued that the statement was made purely out of irritation at Luis Suarez’s disallowed goal late in the match.
Regardless, it put an incredibly talented player in the spotlight once again for something totally outside of his footballing capabilities.
The 32-year-old midfielder is not unaccustomed to making headlines off the pitch. In October 2007, he hit a 10-year-old cyclist with his car, although he later went to the hospital to visit the boy and other patients. Then, in December 2008, Gerrard was arrested along with two friends for a bar fight that resulted in minor injuries to a disc jockey and other patrons.
Nevertheless, in most regards, the England captain has been well-received in football circles and is respected as one of the most talented midfielders of this generation.
That is why now more than ever it is critical for Gerrard to keep his mouth shut and lead the way forward for a Liverpool side that is struggling for consistency and sits in the bottom-half of the EPL table, already having been eliminated as defending champions from the League Cup.
Once the envy of their Merseyside neighbors, the Red have not qualified for the Champion’s League in three seasons and continue to suffer from a transfer policy that has allowed millions to be spent on average players such as Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, and Alberto Aquilani, among others. Many of these players are either sold off immediately for bargain prices or get sent out on loan like £35 million striker Andy Carroll. This has seriously debilitated the ability of new manager Brendan Rodgers to maneuver in the transfer window.
Gerrard has been the victim of injuries during much of this period of underachievement for the club. Last season, the midfielder featured only 18 times in league matches (28 in all competitions) and in 2009-10 he managed 21 appearances in the league (24 in all competitions). The loss of such an influential player and possibly one of the most talented English-born midfielders in British history has left Liverpool searching for style and leadership.
The former has been provided by Rodgers, who is shaping the Mersysiders to play attractive, possession-based football akin to former club Swansea City and much of Europe’s leading sides. But, leadership must come from Gerrard, the 10th most-capped Liverpool player in history and the club’s top scorer ever in European competition.
Surely, if he is able to stay fit, Gerrard will score and create goals for the team—incredibly important for a team so dependent on Suarez. The Liverpudlian may not possess the adroitness of fellow midfielder Joe Allen when it comes to short passing and build-up play, but his long, diagonal balls and defense splitting passes will always be useful for a team that needs to fashion more scoring chances.
Gerrard will also need to be there to guide youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, Suso, and Jay Spearing (when he returns from loan), who Rodgers has taken a chance on introducing regularly to the club’s first-team.
He certainly has the confidence of his manager, who recently called him Liverpool's "Superman" ahead of his 600th club appearance against Newcastle United. Players of Gerrard's quality and longevity do not come along so easily at professional clubs, so he will want to give the Reds his all in every capacity until the curtain finally comes down on his storied career.
The way back for Liverpool this season appears thorny and complicated. It begins on Sunday with a visit to Stamford Bridge to face a rejuvenated Chelsea. Gerrard will need to be in top form if the visitors are to come away with any points.
For now, let's hope he does his talking with his feet and not his mouth. It will certainly reap better results.