He may have played in every minute of every league match of Liverpool’s season, but Steven Gerrard can’t go on forever. There will come a time when the Reds need to plan for life without their captain.
That life doesn’t look like coming any time soon given the enormous energy levels and frequent quality displayed by Gerrard for much of this season, but the skipper will be 33 at the end of the campaign. "Veteran" status is approaching.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has already spoken of extending Gerrard’s contract past its current expiration date next summer (via Yahoo! Sport), but although he will surely continue as Reds captain until his very last kick of a ball for the club, perhaps Rodgers will find that he needs to get his inspirational performances from elsewhere.
The talismanic displays from Gerrard won’t go on forever, and so as Liverpool start to think of life without their main man, just who can the Reds look to for inspiration?
Here are five men with the potential to fill Gerrard’s role. Some are already performing inspirational feats, others are a little less familiar, but all have big shoes to fill.
There is so much about Luis Suarez’s game already that acts as an inspiration to Liverpool, and so in many ways he has already taken Gerrard’s place.
When Liverpool need a goal they look to Suarez to provide it, and although his compelling rescue attempt against Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League last week ultimately fell agonisingly short, it was the type of effort that was stunning to watch and displayed all of the Uruguayan’s heart, desire and will to win.
Suarez simply gives everything to win, even in a lost cause, and Liverpool are certainly all the better for having him in their team.
The forward is someone you want on your side, and he is capable of inspiring teammates around him to aim higher.
The quiet renaissance of Jordan Henderson is continuing, and although he’s going to need it to get a lot louder if he is to be considered to be following in Gerrard’s footsteps, he is certainly going about things the right way.
The midfielder has won over Rodgers following a difficult start in their relationship―which began after Henderson had frequently experienced tough times during his first season in red shirt―and he has shown impressive qualities that fit in with the way that Rodgers wants to play.
At 22, Henderson isn’t yet showing the drive and ability to dominate matches that Gerrard has frequently shown over the last decade and more, but the former Sunderland man can at least learn from the best in a bid to improve.
He won’t be as good as Gerrard―very few can dream of being―but Henderson can still be a very good player for Liverpool.
Life in the Liverpool spotlight hasn’t always been easy for Jonjo Shelvey, but the 20-year-old Londoner has always shown a desire to improve and to make more of an impact on the team.
The midfielder found himself used more and more by Rodgers in the run-up to Christmas, but although he has been seen less since he has often shown signs of progression.
Experiences such as the sending off against Manchester United in September―and the subsequent spat with Sir Alex Ferguson (via The Daily Mail)―can all go into the memory bank of a young player’s career, and Shelvey continues to learn on the job in the most pressurised position possible.
A willingness to try things out of the ordinary and a clear quality on the ball make him a popular player amongst the majority of the Reds’ support, and although it is clear that Shelvey needs to get his head down and learn more about the game, the early signs are promising.
Their backgrounds are very similar, and there have been comparisons between Conor Coady and Gerrard at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground and at the Reds’ Academy due to the way that the 19-year-old approaches his football off the pitch.
A regular at England youth levels, Coady―like Gerrard―has played most of his youth football in either defence or defensive midfield, and the young Scouser has already impressed enough to earn a shot at the first team.
Kenny Dalglish gave him a chance on Liverpool’s preseason tour of Asia in 2011, and the youngster impressed and scored in Gerrard’s absence (via The Guardian). This season he earned his first senior appearance in a competitive match when he started the Europa League clash with Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia.
How far in the game Coady goes remains to be seen, but it is clear to see who his idol is.
Maybe Rodgers can lead from the front, and instead of relying on a talismanic figure on the pitch to help him out he could make more of a difference off it.
Of course he does already try to do that, but whilst he tries to lead from the front with so many of his words and actions, it might be time for him to start delivering more.
So much of Gerrard’s leadership has been and will continue to be through setting an example. He isn’t a great talker, but he is a great figurehead.
Perhaps Rodgers can learn from that and make his actions speak louder than his words.