Heart of football: Gerrard left his mark in more ways than one

Heart of football: Gerrard left his mark in more ways than one
Steven Gerrard, now with the Los Angeles Galaxy, says he is just undergoing a transition period before a call comes from Anfield to serve the club again.
PHOTO: AFP

When Liverpool kicked off against Manchester United at Old Trafford this morning (Singapore time), it was - for better or worse - the first time since Steven Gerrard turned eight years of age that he was not somehow a part of it.

Gerrard, in fact, was in Los Angeles, preparing to play for the Galaxy against the Montreal Impact. That game, kicking off at 10.30am Singapore time today, pitted him against a Montreal side including Didier Drogba.

That is what old soldiers do in life, they trade the pound for the dollar, and trade down the Premier League for Major League Football.

It is still a great living, and a rich one. But in My Story by Steven Gerrard, a biography about to be launched, the rawness of being separated from the contest of the northern Reds clearly still pulsates through Stevie G.

The "derby" at Old Trafford is, or was, the pulse of what drove Gerrard to, and beyond, the edge of reason.

Of course, the bitter-sweet contest started long before him.

The first encounter was in 1895, and since then, United had won 77, Liverpool 64, with the remaining 51 matches drawn.

But unlike Ryan Giggs, who has stayed at Old Trafford as part of the coaching staff, Gerrard is a world away from his beloved Liverpool.

This, he makes clear, is a transition that hurts him to the core. And the impression is that every day of his new life on West Coast USA is somehow a preparation for returning just as soon as Anfield makes the call.

Meanwhile, the United versus Liverpool matches must go on, but after a period of over 40 years, the blunt truth is that neither of these clubs are likely to have any bearing on where the English title ends up.

Manchester City, Chelsea, possibly Arsenal have left the Reds in the shade. Americans may own Man U and Liverpool, and have the majority say in the Arsenal boardroom, but the Russian money at Chelski and the Abu Dhabi fortune flowing into City have changed the power base in English football.

Try telling that to a Mancunian Red Devil or a Liverpudlian Red.

Try telling Gerrard that dominance runs in cycles, and the one he was born to has gone.

However, Donald McRae, the author of Gerrard's latest authorised biography, has extracted the essence of what he refers to as the "real, raw, brutally honest" motivation behind a career that started as a Junior Red and, despite the temptations and offers that continued even after he left for the United States, meant that he could not contemplate ever playing against his own club.

The book isn't out yet but the serialisation began this weekend in the Daily Mail.

Because of the United-Liverpool game, the first extracts are narrowed down to a somewhat insular core of red-on-red rivalry.

"Truth About my United Stamp Fury" reads the headline across a blatant admission that his last game, and his last red card against United, lasted just 38 seconds.

He describes himself as feeling like a caged animal on the bench because the manager Brendan Rodgers had chosen to start without him. Then, after coming on as substitute, this:

"As (Ander) Herrera came flying in with his sliding tackle, his right leg stretched out invitingly on the Anfield turf.

"I couldn't stop myself. Without even giving myself time to think, I brought my left foot stamping down on Herrera.

"I felt my studs sink into his flesh just above the ankle. It had to have hurt him."

The referee, Martin Atkinson, did his duty in showing Gerrard a straight red card, and the medical staff did what they could for Herrera. Looking back, Gerrard defines it as rage born out of madness.

Thankfully, Herrera was not as badly hurt as he might have been. But the mea culpa is either the honesty that his biographer refers to, or the worst kind of post-career boast since Roy Keane, the former United skipper, wrote in his book that he deliberately put his studs into the knee of Manchester City's Alf Inge Haaland in 2001 as revenge for an injury Keane suffered four years earlier.

Keane later diluted the boast, claiming that he meant to "hurt" but "not to injure" his opponent.

The thin line between the hardest of men in what we still like to think of as a game.

Gerrard's reflection is that there was nothing personal towards Herrera. His explanation is two-fold. He admits that he was brought up to regard United as the enemy, and he felt compelled to show fire against them.

And he describes the pent-up rage inside him as he was made to wait on the bench for what was to be his last chance against United. As he walked off, he asked himself: "What have you just done? Are you effing stupid?"

Answers, perhaps, on a postcard.

I should say here that Stevie G in action, for Liverpool and for England at times, has been the epitome of the committed athlete. Inspiring, brave, unsparing on himself and a leader to whom every reporter has written eulogies.

However, it was Fabio Capello, during his time as England head coach, who questioned whether Gerrard could play with his head as well as his heart, and detach himself from wild fluctuations in emotion that ultimately could be self-defeating.

One other passage the Mail published yesterday added to this sense of Gerrard being on the edge.

It recalls the moment in April last year, when his slip allowed Chelsea's Demba Ba to break away and score the goal that cost Liverpool the Premier League title. Gerrard had waited throughout his career to win that trophy, and describes being driven away from Anfield that night.

"I sat in the back of the car and felt the tears rolling down... I felt numb, like I had lost someone in my family."

The crowd had sung You'll Never Walk Alone but Gerrard felt it was his darkest hour.

And felt almost suicidal.

stsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 13, 2015.
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