I heard on a podcast that I listen to that watching Steven Gerrard’s 38 second cameo in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United on Sunday was ‘like a dream’. Unlike most of the times Gerrard’s performances have been dream-like, this was more of a nightmare.
Having sat through a substandard performance by his team mates in the first half of the game at Anfield, there’s no doubt Gerrard will have been wondering what he was doing on the bench, no doubt thinking his inclusion could have changed the game for the better. I understand any top level player thinking that – you don’t get to the top of the game without backing yourself. But if asked honestly, I think Steven would admit that his swan song season at Anfield has been one of his worst. Ignore the romance of the occasion, the status of the player and the contribution he has made to his hometown team over the past 15 years and you’ll find no statistics to say he deserved inclusion from the kick-off.
I would be reticent, however, to begin a tirade against a man with as glittering a career as Gerrard. I remember Zinedine Zidane as a genius of the game, a European Cup winner and one of the most graceful players ever to enter the field of play. I do not have that memory tainted by his sending off in his final game – the dismissal, of course, coming in the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin following a head-butt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Like Zidane, I don’t think Sunday’s events should, or will, taint the memories Gerrard has granted Koppites the world over. How can anyone erase THAT winning goal in the FA Cup Final against West Ham? Or THAT goal against Champions League opponents Olympiakos. Or, most of all, the barn-storming captain’s performance that inspired his team to become European Champions in a thrilling victory over AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.
What I think makes the sending off worth talking about, none-the-less, is the sheer lunacy of it. It was clear from the moment Gerrard stepped on the pitch that he was out for one of two things – to become a hero or an intentional villain. In 38 seconds, he showed both sides of that particular coin. A Hollywood pass that only Gerrard could ping out to the right was swiftly followed by a crunching tackle on man-of-the-match and double scorer Juan Mata. But it was his complete over-reaction to a harmless tackle by United midfielder Ander Herrera that had everyone shocked and confused. The deliberate stamp on his counterpart showed a side of Gerrard most thought had long been forgotten. In one swift movement, the hero of the Anfield faithful returned to the hot-headed, ill-tempered, angry player not seen since his much younger days. Looking purely at his Premier League stats, Sunday’s is the first red card for Gerrard since 2005/06, following a spell in which he received a red card in 4 consecutive seasons between 1999 and 2003.
Since then, however, Gerrard has been so much more that that. The passion which led to those early red cards matured. That passion went on to fuel the unforgettable moments we’ve considered. Known for his drive and determination, Gerrard has, on so many occasions, provided the engine to drive Liverpool to some glorious moments and oh-so-nearly brought them the league title in 2014. To be frank, I don’t think this weekend’s events will hinder the memory of a man who has already written himself into the history of one of England and Europe’s most illustrious clubs. It’s just a shame that, with his career all too quickly coming to an end, his actions have cost him 4 and a half precious hours more on the field for the club he loves.