Yesterday afternoon, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers were saved from going five Premier League games without a win by Glen Johnson’s 85th minute winner; the most extreme view being that it may have saved the manager’s job.
Although it was 16 years to the day that Steven Gerrard made his Anfield debut, Rodgers made the decision to pick the skipper as a substitute for the visit of Stoke City. Rodgers admitted afterwards that he was unaware of the milestone, but that shouldn’t have had any impact on who the manager picked for what was a must win game.
The Mail on Sunday is reporting that Gerrard could leave the club, with talks on a new contract stalling, with his £140,000-a-week wages a stumbling block. However, it would be a huge shame if the club and player were to separate ways for this futile reason. Gerrard could go on to play for another two seasons at Anfield, but only if the player and club are realistic about his ability.
At 34 years old, it is very unlikely that the talismanic midfielder can continue to play every game for Liverpool, especially if they are going to be involved in both domestic and European campaigns. Both parties need to be smarter, with examples all over Europe of players reducing their playing time to maximise their impact.
Saturday was Gerrard’s first substitute appearance of the season, making 12 starts previously, playing 1096 minutes overall. That’s an average of 84 minutes per game. Impressive minutes for the 34-year-old. There is a case to be had that Gerrard should have been used from the bench well before the Stoke match.
The rigours of the Premier League will take its toll on any midfield players, especially someone with the blood and thunder style of Gerrard. Critics have been quick to say his legs have gone, there’s no denying this is close to the truth, but is there any shame in a player that will always give his all, in one of the fastest leagues in the world finally showing his age.
Over in France this weekend, 37-year-old Troyes midfielder Benjamin Nivet scored his 93rd goal in his 518th appearance in the league. On Monday night he started in Troyes’ 1-0 win over Nancy, but there was no drama when he was named on the bench for the tough away fixture against Angers on Saturday.
Unable to play two games in a week, the veteran made his appearance with 30 minutes to go and without extra miles in his legs he was able to come on and instantly made an impact. Starting the move, he took up an excellent position on the edge of the box before slotting his shot perfectly into the far corner.
That put his side 2-0 up and inspired them to a wonderful 3-0 away victory. There is absolutely no reason this can’t be the role that Gerrard plays for Liverpool for at least another 18 months. The Liverpool fans need to come to terms with the fact he will not start every game, and Gerrard needs to decide whether he wants to continue to play for the club that formed him or go for one more payday outside of the Premier League.
England’s top flight is more unforgiving than the football in France, so perhaps a 37-year-old Nivet has taken the same physical abuse Gerrard at 34, but the situations are similar. Gerrard can still be Liverpool’s talisman, he can still play a huge part at the club, but everyone involved needs to be smarter on how and when to use the former England international.
If you start him, play him for 60 minutes, and then rest him for the next match and give him the last 30 minutes. That way he can come on and give his everything, because Gerrard doesn’t know any other way to play the game. There is no need for Gerrard to hang up his boots at Anfield, the club and player just need to adapt to maintain his influence.