In his final game for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard displayed one of his greatest and most valuable strengths.
While many associate the Reds legend with long-range passes, Hollywood balls, booming shots from distance and set pieces, his nerve in front of goal was always one of his key strengths.
That final game also highlighted the club’s decline under Brendan Rodgers, as Liverpool slumped to an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at Stoke City, with the farewell goal for the legendary No.8 the only positive.
The Northern Irishman attempted to get the most out of Gerrard in his final seasons at the club, but may have also impacted the captain’s decision to leave Anfield and wind down his career in Los Angeles.
His advancing years affected the midfield engine, and the physical side of his game in defence, which would not have been as much of an issue had Rodgers used him in more advanced positions.
The season prior, Rodgers’ Liverpool had thrown away a golden opportunity to win what would have been Gerrard’s first Premier League title, and the player has since spoken of the manager’s overconfidence going into the all-important latter stages.
“I’ve never been able to say this in public before but I was seriously concerned that we thought we could blow Chelsea away,” said Gerrard in his autobiography.
“I sensed an over-confidence in Brendan’s team talks. We played into Chelsea’s hands. I feared it then and I know it now.”
With the lower profile Rodgers at the helm at Liverpool, Gerrard was often relied upon to convince big name players to join the club.
“I had an unofficial role trying to persuade some great players to join Liverpool,” wrote Gerrard. “They thought that a request to consider moving to Liverpool would have more impact coming from me.
“Our target in 2014 was ridiculously optimistic. Brendan asked me to take a crack at trying to talk Toni Kroos into signing for Liverpool. He smiled when I said we’d be p*****g into the wind with this one.”
Gerrard was the big personality at Liverpool, and Rodgers the up-and-coming manager. Though many of the club’s other big names and personalities, such as Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez, Pepe Reina, and Dirk Kuyt departed, giving Rodgers more say in the dressing room, Gerrard was always the main man.
He has credited Rodgers with prolonging his career in certain areas, with Ian Herbert writing in the Independent “Gerrard considers him a man-manager without equal.”
But Herbert also highlighted “he considered Benítez’s tactical grasp far better than Rodgers’ and later yearned for the glories of the Benítez era.”
The roles are now reversed, with Rodgers the experienced and successful manager, at least at a domestic level in Scotland, and Gerrard the one with a point to prove.
It will be a fascinating side-story to a rivalry which needs no extra spice, and it will be interesting to see if there are any mind games.
Gerrard has always shown respect to Rodgers in public, despite questioning some of the decisions he made at Liverpool in his autobiography.
He has also commented on the time he was left on the bench by Rodgers against Manchester United, telling BT Sport: “I didn’t enjoy missing big games, I sat on the bench against Manchester United and Real Madrid and for me, I don’t want people to remember me as a substitute.”
“Sitting on the bench at home against Manchester United at home was tough to take and was probably the reason why I was sent off within 30 seconds. The emotions got the better of me on the day, I was just full of anger and very disappointed in Brendan’s team selection.”
When he found out he would be left out by Rodgers against United, Gerrard recalled: “A sudden lump formed in my throat. I had a split-second decision to make. Do I have a go at him?”
Rodgers has enjoyed great success domestically since joining Celtic, having guided the team to a record breaking 69-game unbeaten run, but is still struggling in Europe. He has already spoken about the arrival of his former player, and believes he is ready for the step up.
“He has lived with expectation but of course it is different with management, especially up here with that rivalry,” said Rodgers.
“It is a totally different experience. There is a curve of experience that you need to go through. I am sure he will be looking forward to his first job and like I say, happy that he now enters into my world of coaching and managing.”
Rangers fans will no doubt enjoy it if Gerrard comes out all guns blazing against Rodgers, but it’s unlikely to be the case.
If there is any needle it will be in the form of subtle mind games with Rodgers asserting his existing authority in the division, and things will be read into phrases like “my world” in the sentence above, even if nothing was meant by them.
Gerrard, meanwhile, will continue making the typically calm but incisive comments which have seen him impress as a pundit, backed by the confidence he has in his own ability as a manager which matches that he had as a player.
There will always be respect between the pair, but there has also always the sense that something was bubbling under the surface. It remains to be seen whether being on either side of this intense rivalry will see it boil over.