IT WAS hard not to adopt the trademark furrowed brow of the man himself as Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard this week explained his reasons for deciding to leave his club of 25 years for America’s Major League Soccer when his contract expires in the summer.
Gerrard wants to play for a club at which he retains the same status of leader, talisman and first name on the teamsheet that he has, until this season, deservedly enjoyed at Anfield for more than a decade. LA Galaxy, who he has agreed to join in July, will surely satisfy that yearning.
Equally understandable – and plausible of being fulfilled, since LA Galaxy have won the MLS Cup in three of the last four years – is the former England skipper’s desire to accumulate more medals in the twilight years of his distinguished career.
Gerrard would surely have lifted more than seven major trophies had he shown less loyalty and joined suitors such as Chelsea, where he could have added that absent Premier League title (twice) as well several other honours had he followed through with plans to join them in 2005.
Back then he wrestled with the big decision and ultimately decided against leaving. Perhaps that was at the back of his mind this time as he took up LA Galaxy’s offer, yet it feels premature.
Gerrard is 34. That is two years younger than Frank Lampard, whose goals have kept Manchester City’s Premier League and European fortunes on the right side of precarious this term, and four years younger than his other former England midfield cohort Paul Scholes was when he hung up his boots.
For all the talk of Gerrard’s fading influence, he has still been the man most likely to decide a match for Liverpool this term. Two goals on Monday spared them an FA Cup humiliation at AFC Wimbledon, while even as they limped out of the Champions League it was Gerrard who scored and led the charge against Basel.
The destination is also curious. When paparazzi-magnet David Beckham jetted off to Hollywood it made sense, but Gerrard? The land of glitz and trash looks an odd choice for a man who has always appeared slightly uncomfortable with his own celebrity status.
Gerrard seems so inherently Scouse that it is hard to picture him living abroad at all – sipping a cappuccino in Milan, strolling Las Ramblas, taking in the Champs Elysees – so perhaps the United States, with its linguistic and cultural familiarity, appealed.
He would be wise to study the fates of those England colleagues who have already traded the Premier League for the MLS, however. How fulfilling did they find it? Beckham came back to Europe on loan at every opportunity, Jermain Defoe has been angling for a return from Toronto and Lampard, who was meant to have signed for New York City FC, has delayed his arrival due to his new-found prominence in Manchester.
Still, Bradley Wright-Phillips seems to be enjoying it out there.
MLS football is a perfectly fine way to wind down Gerrard’s career, but this feels too soon. Those megabucks offers would still be on the table in 12 or 24 months’ time, so could he not accept a less intensive but still influential role at Liverpool or another top Premier League club, most of whom would surely take him, and cash in his US pension pot later?
Gerrard’s crucial recent contributions and the longevity of Lampard and Scholes are evidence that he still has much to offer.