When it finally came, it was against a low-key backdrop that represented pretty much the opposite of everything that Steven Gerrard has done in his football career.
The Liverpool and England captain has usually been at the front and centre of everything for the 16 years he has been in the Reds' first team and the 14 in which he played for England. He doesn’t know any other way.
When deficits needed to be erased or advantages pressed home, he’d always be the man looking to make things happen; taking charge and raging against the dying of the light. It didn’t always work out, but the very least you can do is put your hand up and try.
It’s that striving for something—almost wanting it too much—which has made him a figure of fun for some. How many different Vines can you watch of him slipping over against Chelsea? Or how many tweets have you read blaming him for Luis Suarez’s goal in Sao Paulo which knocked England out of the World Cup? It seems to be an endless cycle.
The decision to bow out of international football, per Chris Bascombe of The Daily Telegraph, taken now following a summer of reflection after that exit, removes all of that.
Gerrard is no longer the man his nation will pin its hopes on, tutting loudly when it emerges that he’s not a Zinedine Zidane or a Xavi or an Andrea Pirlo or whoever else seems to be in vogue at the time.
He plays the game his way and has done so for 16 years. He has won 114 international caps, while he enters the new Premier League season with a great chance of winning the one club trophy he never has. His way seems to be the right way.
Putting himself at the front and centre of everything has its downside—as we discussed on these pages after the Chelsea slip. A lot of your team's failings and disappointments seem to somehow always find their way back to you.
It’s the same at Liverpool, where plenty were questioning whether Gerrard deserved a place in the team at all after a 5-0 win over Tottenham in December for which he was absent. That was followed by a poor performance in a midfield two in a home draw with Aston Villa—the same system Roy Hodgson preferred this summer. England's manager put his faith in something which really hadn’t been tried and tested.
These are just recent examples, but there are many more.
The international retirement and the return of Champions League football to Liverpool should loosen this pressure on the 34-year-old’s shoulders. There will be the initial, predictable response from many, but then there will arguably come the first period of calm in a career which has almost exclusively taken place at breakneck speed.
Gerrard won’t be an omnipresent figure in every Liverpool game next season; there will simply be too many of them, and he’s got the fresher, younger legs of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Emre Can and others to come in and deputise.
Removing England from his agenda will at least allow him to take part in more than his fair share of fixtures, though, which will of course be of huge benefit to the Reds. Some of the hysterical talk of the recent past has even suggested that he is too old to have an influence anymore, but remember that he was just nominated for FIFA Player of the Year.
Perhaps no longer being an international footballer will allow Gerrard more time to work on his deeper-lying role on the Melwood training ground with Brendan Rodgers, a manager who seems to specialise in getting the best out of players already at his disposal.
This decision could prolong his club career by two or three years. In that time, you could see him play with a smile on his face a little more, a sight which hasn't been too commonplace over these 16 years.
Gerrard fading away from England doesn’t have to be seen as the end of something, but more the beginning of something else.
Liverpool will be more than happy to have him all to themselves.
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