Time away, received wisdom tells us, is a wonderful way to gain perspective and restructure one's thoughts. Yet as I stare into the vast tumbleweed-strewn expanse of today's Liverpool Football Club-related news, after a week of sun-loungers, good books and better food, all I feel is a terrible sense of existential ennui. Does nothing ever change? Is this it? The same dubiously-sourced stories about the same morally bankrupt players? All the time?
When faced with such disconcertingly choppy seas, one goes looking for the certainties of one's life to act as a kind of anchor. For fifteen years now, Steven Gerrard in Liverpool red has been one of those ineluctabilities. From his early days as a precociously talented but wild-tackling youth to his more recent incarnation as a newly bearded holding-general of the midfield, Gerrard has always been a fixture in the team we love so well, and it would appear, that for another two years at least, he will remain so.
Without his wily old comrade, Jamie Carragher, this will be an odd campaign for Gerrard. His leadership has always come from his indefatigable effort and example, with the piercing and incessant Scouse screaming of the Bootle man acting as a more insistent reminder to team-mates that shirking is intolerable. It's been a double-act in which the recently retired legend was happy to play second-fiddle off the pitch but only a blind fool could have missed his importance on the field. Whilst the England captain's shoulders have sometimes dropped, Carragher's never did and nor did the shrill admonitory tone of his voicebox.
Gerrard, never a vocal captain, has shown signs of becoming a little more involved in that aspect of the role in recent seasons, but with the equally reticent Lucas Leiva alongside him during the last campaign, it was often Jordan Henderson who delivered the verbal rockets to errant colleagues. There can, of course, be an excessive amount of guff spoken about the captain's role but the need for a talker at the heart of a new and emergent team is paramount. This year we need to see our number eight in everyone's ear, including the referee's, as every advantage is vital but it is perhaps his symbolic facial furniture that will be the greatest aid to Gerrard's search for gravitas.
Regular readers will be aware that I am a devotee of the school of thought which elevates the beard to a level of importance that goes beyond the vagaries of fashion -- it's a mystical thing that connects us to our more hirsute ancestors, you see. It was, therefore, with no small amount of glee, that I witnessed the emergent face-rug adorning the Gerrard visage. "This changes everything," I thought and immediately slipped into a reverie in which a triumverate of Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso and the newly bewhiskered Gerrard effortlessly pinged fifty-yard passes to each other and dinked penalties audaciously past hapless goalkeepers.
Tomorrow, the squad fly out for
an exhausting corporate jolly with the sole purpose of expanding the merchandising market the pre-season tour of Indonesia, Australia and Thailand and The Echo are reporting that a deal may be signed before departure. This would be a wonderful boost to the club, for while it would have been more shocking than the hideous barnet currently perched atop Raheem Sterling's pate, had such a deal not been offered to the captain, the horrible (in every way) spectre of the farcical Frank Lampard scenario loomed in the background as long as only twelve months remained on Gerrard's contract.
Steven Gerrard has always appeared to wear the burden of expectation heavily -- his on-pitch demeanour an amalgam of sighs, groans, grimaces and rueful looks -- but in truth he is merely being himself. His autobiography paints a picture of a driven but anxious man, all too aware of what is demanded of him. Yet as TS Eliot would have it, "anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," and Gerrard has channeled his worry and fretful nature in such a way as to push himself and his club to some great achievements.
So, we march on to a bright new future with a seasoned general marshalling our fresh troops. In Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have one of the icons of the modern game. In my four decades of obsession with the Merseyside club, only Kenny Dalglish has had a more impactful presence at Anfield. Much as it pains me to draw comparisons with that lot from up the M62, it would be beautiful to think that Gerrard's career might end as gloriously as Bryan Robson's did for Manchester United, with league success finally arriving in his last days as leader of the club.
Well, that's torn it. I've gone and played the hope card on my first day back. That bloody Spanish wine and tapas have left me uncharacteristically ebullient. I can only apologise for this flagrant display of wide-eyed optimism and avow that normal curmudgeonly cynicism will be restored tomorrow.
That beard, though -- it is a good sign.
**A few hours after this post, Steven Gerrard's contract extension was confirmed by the club. And then he leaned on something.**