Why Gerrard Will Remain At Liverpool

Posted by Paul Tomkins on June 20, 2004, 07:49:08 PM

I don't doubt that Chelsea want Steven Gerrard (who wouldn't?), and that they are using the media to unsettle him; I do, however, doubt that Stevie G wants to leave Liverpool Football Club. The questionable nature of such rumours is best summed up by the first report about him leaving, which said Gerrard was unhappy that Liverpool hadn't appointed an English coach (Curbishley), so he was upping sticks... to play for Jose Mourinho! To suggest that Gerrard favoured an English manager is barmy - he's only ever played for Houllier (who he is indebted to) and Eriksson (ditto). Oh, my apologies - I'm forgetting a brief spell under Kevin Keegan's disastrous, directionless stewardship of England. So when the stories start out like that, you know there is some serious straw-clutching going on. Gerrard simply wants to play under a top manager; Benitez fits that bill. His origins matter not.

While there is never any smoke without fire, in this instance I feel it's just Peter Kenyon playing with matches like a naughty schoolboy. And before we panic, let's remember that at Chelsea Kenyon has rarely got his man: Eriksson was the first choice for manager and Wenger was also coveted, and in the last year Henry, Viera, and Walter Samuel have all turned him down. Arsenal, despite being short of cash, said no to the sale of Henry for £50m. Henry didn't want to leave either. We have to hope Gerrard feels as loved as Henry does, and as capable of challenging for honours as Arsenal are.

Gerrard's comments were made at the end of last season. He told Rick Parry he was unhappy - and rightly so (who wasn't unhappy?). Where's the news in that? Who wouldn't be hacked-off with having out-played so many of his own teammates, many of whom didn't appear to be trying? Who wouldn't have had concerns about a manager - however much he liked and respected him - whose tactics appeared confused, and who had bought too many sub-standard players in recent seasons? Gerrard was right to wonder if Houllier was past his best.

What has changed since then?

Lots - quite clearly:

- Heskey, the perennial under-achiever, has been replaced with the most coveted young striker in world football. This is just the first piece of transfer activity. The club means business. It realised that the time had come to be ruthless.

- Rafael Benitez, Valencia's own King Midas, has arrived as our new manager. This is the man who spent next-to-no money in winning the best league in the world not once, but twice in the last three years. Oh, and the Uefa Cup. Now if I was Steven Gerrard, I'd be pretty damn excited about the prospect of working with him. Wouldn't you?

- The finances will be boosted with a massive investment on the horizon: money still from Thailand, but now from a better source, it seems. Of course, it's not the bottomless pit of cash that Abramovich possesses. But it's enough money, if spent wisely. After all, Cisse - 30 goals in France last season - cost the same as Chelsea are paying for a Portuguese full-back.

- Also different from last season is that Liverpool are in the Champions League (qualifier permitting).

The joke is that one newspaper described swapping Anfield for Stamford Bridge as Gerrard's "dream" move. What is there to dream about? Am I missing the point here?

At Liverpool he is the club captain. Captain of the most successful British club ever, no less: domestically, and in Europe (a team still respected and loved worldwide, unlike Chelsea). The team he supported as a boy. His roots are Liverpool Football Club. And now we're being told by journalists that he'll walk away for a big pile of money, when he already earns more than he knows what to do with. Rick Parry said it's not about the money - it's about medals. And with the top players, that is true. But excuse me - how many trophies have Chelsea won lately anyway? Haven't we won four since their last success? If Gerrard wanted to join Arsenal or Man United, I could understand that *to a degree*, as they are "proven" - they have won all the major trophies in the last five years (although no-one whose opinion should be trusted has said he wants to go anywhere ). But Chelsea? They are still just an unproven theory; it's all "what might be". They are still only an experiment - not yet a great football club.

Rafael Benitez has already proved his class over this issue. Yes, he wants Gerrard, and will do all he can to keep him (as will Parry). But he is not worried; Benitez wants to build a team, not a collection of individuals. Gerrard is the perfect central component for that team, providing he wants to play for the club. (And I still believe he does). Gerrard is part of Liverpool's cultural core, in a way he never could be in London. He is both the soul and the heartbeat of our side; not just another expensive adornment to be tossed aside if injury or poor form strikes, or the latest hot property takes their fancy. Liverpool is his home. In every possible sense.

I hope (with all my heart) that it doesn't come to having to sell him; as it will confirm Liverpool FC as a second class footballing institution for the first time in my lifetime. We've been out of the title race and in the doldrums, but we've never had to sell our best player to another English club. If Gerrard wants to leave (for argument's sake), then you can refuse to sell him, but then you have an unhappy player on your books (whose value starts to depreciate). So you sell him and make a lot of money; but you strengthen your opponents in doing so and possibly kiss goodbye the chance of ever overtaking them. Let him go, and it sends worrying signals to the other players. It says you can't compete, and perhaps lack ambition.

If Everton want to sell Wayne Rooney, then, to me at least, that makes sense. They need to rebuild an entire side, and could buy eleven £4m players to do so. Liverpool need only new direction (from Benitez) and three or four new faces at most: but top quality ones, not squad men. Liverpool need to be adding quality, not quantity. The trouble with getting £31 million (add another £40m to make it realistic, in my eyes) is that you could buy six decent players with that money, and none of them improve the first team. (See Diouf, Diao, Cheyrou, et al, when Houllier last had a large amount to invest). And the value of anyone we wanted to buy would double overnight. So while Benitez might be able to fashion a better team with the money, he would also be running the risk of merely bolstering the squad. Look at Man U: while Ronaldo might end up adequately replacing Beckham, it looked for 95% of last season as though they had bought five squad players who weren't up to the task; Ferguson couldn't play all five in Beckham's place. They added depth to the squad - but weakened the side. And Gerrard is twice the player Beckham is.

When a player like Gerrard leaves, he is irreplaceable. You won't find a replacement who is like five players rolled into one. Not only does he do the job of five people, he also works harder for the team than anyone else; he is not a fancy soloist who you might be better off without, for all his skills.

I'm still struggling with the idea that Gerrard is "dreaming" of playing for Chelsea. What does Chelsea Football Club have to offer that we don't, money aside? It is a club with no tradition, and no self-generating finance; if Abramovich got bored and walked away, then the club would implode.

What players do they have that Gerrard would dream of playing alongside? They've made a lot of expensive signings, but no Zidane, no Henry, no Ronaldinho. Would you want to swap Duff for Kewell? Not particularly. Or any of their strikers for Owen? Has any Chelsea player (or target, such as Deco) come even remotely close to playing to the level of Milan Baros during Euro2004?

Have they signed anyone as exciting as Djibril Cisse this summer? I can tell you no, they haven't. Lots of Porto players eager to leave a weak league; to me, Porto were a well-organised team who, like Millwall in the FA Cup, had the breaks which are part of doing well in cup competitions. (Monaco knocked out the better teams, for example; and then Monaco lost their best player, Guily, early in the final). Is Deco quality? Sure. But would you join a club just to play with him? No. Meanwhile Chelsea's training ground in Harlington is a disgrace. The new Anfield will easily overshadow Stamford Bridge.

So maybe it's the manager? Is Mourinho better than Benitez? I'd certainly argue that Valencia played better teams in the Spanish League (the best in the world, in most people's eyes) than Porto met on their way to the Champions League final; and a league is almost 40 games, not 13. If you win one of the big four leagues, you are a quality manager. Do it twice, like Benitez (and with no money as well), and you are proven top quality.

I hope people don't start turning on Steven Gerrard or the board over pure speculation; otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: he leaves as he feels unwelcome, when up to then he'd wanted to stay. We should be getting behind him, and not believing any of this; nothing has been said by either him or his agent. Until it has, then we must ignore it all - as hard as it is.

I'll sum up by saying: why would he leave Liverpool at such an exciting time? The answer is: he won't. I'm not 100% sure, of course, but close enough. Gerrard is still young; just 23 when the last season ended. He said he didn't want to be 35 at Liverpool having won none of the major honours. Fair comment, in my eyes. But that's eleven years away. Surely he has to give the new man at least two years of his service? Does he not owe that to himself, the club, and the fans? He will be only 25 at the end of 2005/06. If Liverpool haven't progressed in that time, then he can leave with my (reluctant) blessing.

But not a moment before.

© Paul Tomkins 2004

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