Why Stevie G is most self-obsessed footballer of his generation
AS Liverpool buckled this past fortnight, the scale of the surrender to sentiment and the Great Myth of Steven Gerrard became apparent.
Essentially the leader who went AWOL at the decisive hour, who could offer only blubbering sobs when his troops needed direction, who abandoned his post in the heat of battle, somehow emerged with a Purple Heart pinned to his tear-stained chest.
Even the Fourth Estate chose to raise the white flag to the fairy story of Stevie G when the Football Writers’ Association arrived at the absurd conclusion that here was the second-best performer in the Premier League over the past nine months.
Straight faces were maintained at their London hooley as they deemed Gerrard’s body of work superior to Eden Hazard and, quite preposterously, Yaya Toure, the peerless touchstone against whom every midfield portfolio must be measured.
Distil the difference between Manchester City and Liverpool down to its essence, investigate why the former lifted the title on Sunday as the latter wallowed in a river of misery, and it is impossible to walk away from a pair of damning conclusions.
Firstly, the team that the Kop, in its ravenous hunger for a new age of prosperity, chose to prematurely deem soldiers of destiny, cannot defend: Liverpool leaked 23 goals more than Chelsea, 12 more than City, seven more, even, than a hapless Manchester United.
Secondly, in terms of leadership and inspiration at critical junctures from its midfield talisman, the contribution of Toure – one which goes way beyond his stunning 20 league goals input – dwarfs that of Gerrard, renders it a nothing.
These two flaws fatally merged at Crystal Palace when Gerrard, deemed Europe’s pre-eminent controlling midfielder by his manager, became the very opposite, a vision of disorganised chaos, as the Eagles landed three killer blows.
This is not to say that Gerrard had a poor season, not at all. But to deem him among the brightest stars in the season’s constellation is simply a work of fiction, a sop to saccharine-induced nostalgia.
It says much for the Englishman’s genius for self-promotion that he would garner more first preference votes than the transcendent Ivorian in the Player of the Year poll conducted by those who scribble about the game on a daily basis.
Here is a triumph of mush over substance, the creation of the greatest fable since the days of Aesop.
Perhaps the writers, like Gerrard himself against Chelsea in what has emerged as the defining image of the season and a treasure trove for parody, had suffered a cataclysmic, collective and concussive slip that had scrambled their senses.
Liverpool fans tend to rewrite history when it comes to the player who did just about everything in his power to board the Chelsea express in 2004 (Google his quotes from that time) until thuggish threats to his family persuaded him to step back.
And in the process Gerrard has become half man, half folk-ballad.
Second-best in England this season? He wasn’t even remotely close to being second best at his own club.
In truth, he ranked somewhere between the fourth and eighth most valuable player at Liverpool.
Unquestionably adrift of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, any honest internal poll would have him jostling with Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Simon Mignolet for the minor placings in a thrilling year of rebirth.
Gerrard was not in the top 20 performers in England.
Of those who can loosely be termed midfielders, he trailed Toure, Hazard, David Silva, Willian, Fernandinho, Adam Lallana, Santi Cazorla and, perhaps, Henderson. Aaron Ramsey in his three months of fitness was a vividly more stellar figure.
Those who observed Gerrard’s comically inept display against Aston Villa at Anfield in January could only assume Brendan Rodgers had spent the evening socialising with the ghosts of Hunter S Thompson, Oliver Reed and George Best when he recently deemed Gerrard “the best in European football in a controlling role”.
Where was the control when he keeled over like a bullet-ridden Bambi against Chelsea?
If that was a cruel taunt from the heavens, there was no outside influence as Liverpool blew that three-goal lead at Palace last week.
A holding midfielder of substance – a Keane, a Vieira, – would have stood up in the face of such impertinence from the underclasses, would have stamped their authority on the south London turf and crushed any hint of a proletariat uprising.
Gerrard – all General MacArthur in his public utterances before the game – merely dissolved into the night.
The man who has shamelessly played to the Sky Sports lens these past few weeks was suddenly pushing the camera away, railing against the very intrusions he had not only invited, but demanded after each decisive Liverpool step forward.
It is true he enjoyed a memorable afternoon as City were downed, but would that helter-skelter contest have followed the same storyline had the immense Toure not been ambushed by injury in the early minutes?
If Rodgers in that earlier quote was referring to his skipper’s capacity to “control” the perceptions surrounding him then perhaps he had a point.
Gerrard is England’s captain and he is peerless at one aspect of the modern game: Feeding the Great Myth.
Whether it is through tears or fist-pumping rallying cries or the smitten, innocent-in-love badge kissing, he creates the illusion of being the ultimate team-player.
In truth, Gerrard is a credible rival to Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovich for the title of most self-obsessed footballer of his generation.
Yet so many fall for the great delusion of Stevie G, the unbending one-club man.
Whether it is turning on the tear-taps or morphing into Russell Crowe after the victory over City when gathering his players in a post-match huddle for his mortifying Gladiator speech, his genius is to cultivate this image as Liverpool’s bastion.
He is the selfless hero, the fearless superintendent, the upholder of standards, the solid Scouser, the forever loyal Red, the man who will keep the darkness at bay.
The only problem is when the truth intrudes upon the narrative.
Like when night fell for Liverpool supporters on Sunday as City – despite being stripped of their world-class striker for most of the season – were crowned champions for the second time in three seasons.
Led by Toure, a midfield player from a different continent to Gerrard by birth; and a different planet when it comes to leadership and achievement.