26 March ~ Watching Steven Gerrard’s body language this season, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a man condemned. And in some ways, perhaps he is. Out of the title race by December, FA Cup and Champions League runs ended prematurely, and sidelined at intervals by groin and hamstring injuries, it’s understandable Gerrard could be feeling a little sorry for himself.
Every player suffers a loss of form from time to time. It is an inevitable consequence of playing week in week out in such a competitive league at such an intense level. Good players recover from loss of form. Great players do it quickly. And I don’t believe it is too large a leap of faith to class Gerrard in the latter camp as has been proved this time and again.
What is most worrying about Gerrard’s loss of form is its timing. Having watched an awful lot of Liverpool this season (awful being the choice word), it has been at times alarming to see the stupor with which the Liverpool captain has hauled himself across the pitch. I don’t know of any other player who could be allowed essentially a whole season of poor form in a World Cup year at supposedly their peak (29) and still get on the plane to South Africa.
A case in point is his moody sauntering around the Old Trafford pitch last weekend, contributing nothing at all in a game that could feasibly have gone a long way in preventing the title being retained in Manchester. Gerrard should have relished that game. He should have been inspiring confidence in those around him, rallying his troops and all manner of other footballing cliches. That is what is expected of him and what he is capable of doing.
The logical conclusion is that Rafa Benítez is failing to get through to his players so spectacularly that Gerrard is limping on until the end of the season in an all-consuming daze of indifference, scarcely able to believe that this is (Xabi Alonso aside) more or less the same side that came so close to winning the title a year ago.
Even if this is true, which given Albert Riera’s recent rant does genuinely seem the case, Gerrard’s behaviour is incredibly petulant. It is because of Liverpool’s poor form since more or less the start of the season that Gerrard’s presence is most needed. Instead he seems to have given up, wallowing in self pity at the injustice of having to share a pitch with David Ngog and Lucas.
If Fabio Capello is true to his word that he will pick players purely on form then Gerrard will not be in the starting XI against the USA on June 12. I would argue that he isn’t even worth his squad place and I never thought that would be something I would write. If Joe Cole has played himself out of contention then the same has to be said of Gerrard. As a gambling man I would put good money on Gerrard lining up on the left hand side of midfield in that first World Cup match. It will, however, be a place scarcely deserved. Adam Bushby