Tough times ahead at Anfield

Tough times ahead at Anfield

As Steven Gerrard trudged away after his final Anfield appearance yesterday morning (Singapore time), the brutal reality dawned on Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

Next season he will be sailing in uncharted waters without the club's admiral on the field. Rodgers now faces the greatest challenge of his three years as the Kop's custodian.

This was not Gerrard's final goodbye. He will be a familiar face around Melwood when he continues to train during Major League Football's winter recess.

Plans for his permanent return in a coaching capacity, for Liverpool to retain a link with their glorious past that mirrors the roles held by the likes of Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, Steve Bould at Arsenal and Duncan Ferguson at Everton, are already afoot.

Liverpool simply refuse to envisage life beyond their home-grown totem.

In the interim, though, there is much uncertainty and insecurity surrounding Liverpool Football Club, and even creating a back-room position for 34-year-old Gerrard will not be able to remedy the situation.

By his own admission, Gerrard isn't the player he once was. That he bows out leaving supporters still yearning for more is both testament to his abilities and an indictment of the distinct lack of leadership within the home dressing room.

The void he is about to create at Anfield is immeasurable.

Rafael Benitez famously vowed to fashion his Liverpool team around their inspirational captain.

Others followed suit despite his advancing age, defying the time-honoured mantra that no player is bigger than the club.

Candidates to assume his mantle are hard to single out. Jordan Henderson remains the favourite to seize Gerrard's vacated armband but he does not possess the same ability to dig deep and pull his side over the line when times get though.

No player who calls Anfield home today has that ability, or even the potential to develop into the kind of player Gerrard was. They may never be one like that again.

Those tinted with potential have become flawed by their own self-importance. Raheem Sterling appears almost certain to leave the club this summer, unrepentant at rejecting a £100,000-per-week ($202,212) contract offer - with even the Anfield faithful growing noticeably tiresome of the entire charade.

As the England prodigy continued to underwhelm against Crystal Palace, groans emanated from the Kop.

He was put in the shade by Yannick Bolasie, a player earning a mere fraction of his valuation who was substituted to a unanimous ovation.

Then there is the worry over Liverpool's recruitment policy.

If, as is likely, Sterling leaves, then the Reds will have to bolster the playing roster even further, and some of the players that have to be drafted in must be star names.

But, remember, for every Xabi Alonso, Sami Hyypia and Luis Suarez that departs, an Alberto Aquilani, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Mario Balotelli has come in to take their place.

Liverpool's name still carries gravitas within European football but more and more, it is becoming dwarfed by the lure of increasingly illustrious, and rich, English Premier League peers.

Even before the transfer window opens, Rodgers has already lost out on one target - PSV Eindhoven's highly rated forward Memphis Depay chose Manchester United.

It is a narrative that will undoubtedly repeat itself this summer unless the conservatism of the "Moneyball" theorem favoured by Liverpool's American owners is consigned to the dustbin.

Gambling on potential for a second summer is unlikely to pay dividends for Rodgers and the club's notorious transfer committee. They are still counting the cost of last year's eight-figure outlays on Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren.

The arrival of Burnley striker Danny Ings, who recorded 10 EPL goals this season, and Divock Origi's return, after scoring just eight goals on loan at Lille, is not the answer.

They are not going to set pulses racing compared to a fully fit Daniel Sturridge.

Strikers are merely the tip of the iceberg as Liverpool grapple with on-field deficiencies.

It is clear Rodgers needs to solidify all departments of his side.

Quality over quantity has become imperative as he prepares for life after the loss of the club's long-time safety blanket.

This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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