In a time when players respected management and their employers, the England manager decided when a player’s time was up. Even as recently as the early 90s, when Gary Lineker found himself surplus to requirements on the international stage, the gaffer let players know when it was all over. The ridiculous situation in 2006, when David Beckham held a press conference to tearfully proclaim the end of his tenure as England captaincy, heralded the start of stage-managed retirement announcements: Cole, Ferdinand, Terry and so on and so forth.
Gerrard’s announcement is just the latest in a long line of grand statements – quitting before he’s unceremonially asked to empty his locker. Gerrard, like most of his peers, was a little over-rated and over-hyped, most interpreting their success at domestic level as a claim to “world class” status. What the likes of Beckham, Ferdinand, Owen, Cole and Rooney all failed to recognize was that much of their domestic triumph was built around the huge influx of overseas talent that arrived on the shores of the UK in the post-Premier world. They were [mostly] found wanting on the international stage. And while Beckham was signed by Real Madrid as one of the world’s highest paid players, he scarcely made an impact in Spain on the pitch.
Gerrard and his kind all believed their own hype, mostly that the Premier was the best league in the world. It was, indeed still is, the best marketed competition in the world bar the UEFA Champions League.
There can be no denying Gerrard’s worth to Liverpool, or his unswerving loyalty to his home-town club. But any talk of Gerrard as loyal “servant” is misguided, both at a club and country level. His 114 caps are not a reflection of his value to his country, they are a symptom of a broken model and a lack of suitable replacements. Some might say he was four years beyond his best when he finally retired.
Gerrard has too often been linked with costly errors, an indication of the way he has carried Liverpool at times over the years. But in Brazil, Gerrard will forever be linked with the mis-timed header that allowed Luis Suarez to score his second goal of the game when Uruguay beat England 2-1. He would hope to be remembered more for the goal that began the rout of Germany in Munich.
As a Liverpool player, he has earned plenty of medals, but his time with the Reds coincided with the club being cast in the shadows of Manchester and London. He’s been regarded as the natural successor to many Kop heroes of the past: players like St.John, Keegan, Fowler, Owen and McManaman. While most of these players all moved on, Gerrard spurned the chance to join Chelsea to soldier on at Anfield. But he no more deserved a Premier medal than any club stalwart up and down the country. Playing for Liverpool doesn’t make him a contender for a league championship winner’s medal. They have not won the title for 24 years, which converts to roughly two football generations, so they have been no more contenders than the majority of the clubs appearing in the top flight since 1990.
That said, Gerrard is the type of old-fashioned, sleeves-up skipper that English football fans love to have in their own line-up. If he’d secured the job earlier, he would surely have been a better, and more suitable, captain than anyone since Bryan Robson in the 1980s. He never had the pin-up or marketing qualities of Beckham, but he was arguably a better and more versatile player than Beckham and modest enough to recognize that he will never be seen as an England legend. At Liverpool, they might disagree….