Liverpool Must Find Answers To Gerrard’s Departure
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Liverpool Must Find Answers to Gerrard’s Departure

Gerrard is not only arguably the finest player in their history but also the last link with a great and glittering past.

Shortly after Liverpool won the Champions League in Istanbul, the club’s kit supplier, Reebok, brought out merchandise to commemorate what 10 years on remains one of European football’s most staggering triumphs.

Among the collection was a white T-shirt that had printed on it the caption: “Hughes to Thompson, Thompson to Souness, Souness to Gerrard”.

It was a clever bit of wordplay that tied together the men who had led Liverpool to their five European Cups — Emlyn Hughes (1977, 1978), Phil Thompson (1981), Graeme Souness (1984) and Steven Gerrard (2005). Four great Liverpool players and four great Liverpool captains, and in the case of the most recent, a figure whose loss may be felt like no other at Anfield.

That certainly was the feeling as Gerrard said goodbye on Saturday evening to the stadium that has been his professional home for the past 17 years. A cold, hard truth was laid bare for the home side: that in the post-Gerrard world they look in danger of being a team devoid of leadership and inspiration.

Whereas in the past the departure of players such as Hughes, Thompson and Souness, and in the modern era, Robbie Fowler, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher, were counterbalanced by the remaining presence of figures with top-level experience, a winning track record or both, there is little such comfort for Liverpool fans now.

Gerrard is not only arguably the finest player in their history but also the last link with a great and glittering past. In his absence, and as things stands, remain a squad high on potential but low on proven success, at Liverpool and elsewhere.

“I can understand the supporters’ frustration,” said the manager, Brendan Rodgers. “You think about the journey they were on last year, the quality of the football they were watching. That for parts of this season hasn’t been there and as supporters you turn up wanting to see your team win and win well. Our job in the summer is to find the players who can make a difference.”

Shift in strategy

That would require a significant shift in Liverpool’s transfer strategy, which under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group has largely been based on signing young players with the capacity to develop under Rodgers’ tutelage. However, as the manager went on to intimate, what this team need following not only the departure of Gerrard but also of Luis Suarez and Carragher in the previous two seasons, is an injection of proven players. Men as opposed to boys.

The absence of that at Anfield is stark. Gerrard aside, there are only nine players with five or more years of Premier League experience – and one of those is Glen Johnson, who is also leaving this summer. The others include Brad Jones, Jose Enrique and Kolo Toure, none of whom can be considered regular first-team options.

This is a group of players also short on trophy success, domestically as well as in Europe, and that is what makes Gerrard’s departure so striking; he is no longer the game-changing talisman of old — as was shown when he struggled to turn the tide against Crystal Palace — but he is someone with a vast bank of experience at the highest level.

His absence will leave a huge hole within such a raw squad — the average age of the 10 other outfield players who started against Palace was a little under 24 — and Gerrard himself has called for more experienced heads to come in this summer. “I wouldn’t buy any more potential,” the midfielder said. “I would buy players that are ready to come and fight and be successful.”

Yet this is also linked to Liverpool’s generally poor buying record as overseen by their rather opaque transfer committee, of which Rodgers is part and therefore must shoulder some responsibility. He has come under severe scrutiny this season and needs to show a greater level of leadership, on and off the pitch, than before at Anfield. “We have to find the answer to that [Gerrard’s departure], he said. “We’ve got to look to kick on next season.”

“Stevie will be a huge loss and it’s up to us as a team to step up and take responsibility,” said Jordan Henderson, who is likely to inherit the captaincy from Gerrard and often in his absence has looked a more commanding presence. “I feel there is a lot of potential in this group. We need to start showing that.”

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