Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has hit back at the recent criticism directed at captain Steven Gerrard, insisting that the midfielder still has a great deal to offer the club.
After impressing in a deeper role last season, Gerrard’s performances have come under criticism so far this term, with some pinpointing the team’s slow start to the campaign on his perceived waning influence.
Rodgers has accepted that, at 34, he is no longer the dominating force he once was, but has rejected claims that the former England skipper is being picked on reputation alone.
“I judge Steven on merit. I think the spotlight he has been under is incredible. Everything for us is based around being a team,” he told reporters. “If people are expecting Steven Gerrard to be the type of player he was 10 years ago that is sadly not the case.
“He has slowly been adapting to a position I felt he could benefit the team but a player who was scoring 15 goals a season and making 13 or 14 assists . . . he is not that type of player [any more].
“It is hugely unfair he is judged at that level. He is a wonderful player and I can quite safely say he is the best player I have worked with in terms of footballing mentality and the loyalty he has shown to this club is without question.
“I don’t deal so much in [being] sentimental. There is nothing sentimental in me picking Steven Gerrard. He is coming towards the latter part of his career but he still has a valuable contribution to make.
“He can play three games in a week but he won’t be able to play it to the level he would like or I would like and it is my job to manage that.”
Rodgers’ final remarks suggest Gerrard could be rested for the crucial Champions League match against Ludogorets Razgrad in Sofia tomorrow night, with his side needing a win to keep their hopes of progressing to the last-16 alive.
Attempting to arrest a four-match losing streak, the Northern Irishman is facing increasing criticism from fans and the media alike, but he contends he is looking forward to the task at hand.
“You never dwell too much on the past - anyone can make mistakes - but for us it is about being in the present and focusing on the next game,” he said. “If we dwell too much on the weekend [a 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace] there is no way we could go out and play.
“It is about getting confidence into players, talking with players, ensuring the environment at the training ground is still a happy place to be. My job as the leader of the team and the club is vital. We will always experience disappointment but no matter how you feel you are one of the pillars of the football club.
“The players are looking to you for that response and ability to motivate and that is very important in my role.”