When I read Steven Gerrard's thoughts on all things Suarez-related last night, I was tormented by the kind of inner dialogue that most of us silently endure. We are a cynical generation, always wanting to know what the other guy's angle is. When one has such a mindset, gestures become puzzles and words are suddenly imbued with layers of subtle contradictions and ambiguous signifiers. It's exhausting. As my head spun, trying to figure out the sub-text, a wise woman told me it might be simpler to just take the captain's words "at face value." Let's do that.
Increasingly, as he chalks the years off his fourth decade, Steven Gerrard has morphed from the inward-looking, angst-ridden young man of yore, all grimaces and tiny furrowed brow, into a thoughtful club leader with a ready word for all comers, be they ball-boys or foreign dignitaries.
He had always been a man who seemed inclined to worry; who like Shakespeare's player, "struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more." Lately, however, a combination of maturity and confidence have seen Liverpool's captain bestride that public forum with a kind of gravitas and openness that we have not previously witnessed. He is growing into his role as a focal point off the field having always been so adroit at being inspirational on the pitch.
Pub arguments have raged for years about Gerrard's strengths or otherwise as Liverpool's captain. For this observer, his greatest strength in this regard was simultaneously his biggest weakness. There have been few if any who can match the amount of moments the Huyton man has inspired his colleagues with some kind of brilliance, but there is no doubt that for over a decade, at least some of the traditional duties of captaincy were absorbed and executed with aplomb by the now-retired Jamie Carragher.
Steven Gerrard is amongst the most iconic figures in sport because he is a wonderful, once-in-a-generation footballer. However, on his rare down days, when his shoulders slump and the magic is not present, such is his potency as the team's spiritual leader, that the captain can actually negatively affect those around him. At Liverpool, for better or for worse, everybody has always looked to Steven Gerrard.
In that context, his honest appraisal of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Luis Suarez takes on another level of significance. Gerrard laid all his cards on the table yesterday when he spoke of the necessity of retaining the Uruguayan in the club's employ and the madness inherent in even considering a sale of the club's greatest asset to Arsenal, direct competitors for Champions League football. As is typical of the more considered man we see of late, he was also cognisant of the desires of his team-mate Suarez.
"I've spoken to Luis loads and of course I'm trying to get him to stay," insisted the captain. "We will have to wait and see if I have any joy. It's a difficult one from a team-mate's perspective, as you've got to show the player respect. Luis is his own guy and makes his own decisions. But Luis Suarez knows what I want him to do, don't worry about that."
Gerrard was typically forthright in his assessment of Suarez's ability and value to the Liverpool cause, referring to him as "the third best player in the world" and warning that the club's current standing "depends on what decision Luis Suarez makes in the next few weeks." As far as our number eight is concerned, the already massive challenge of attaining a place at Europe's top table would be rendered "even more difficult" were the Uruguayan to leave. A couple of what he calls "marquee signings" would boost the morale for sure, but Gerrard insists that keeping Suarez "could be our best signing of the summer."
Having himself flirted with the idea of moving elsewhere for an obscene amount of money, Gerrard is ideally placed to assess the options available to Luis Suarez. Like most of us, the captain finds it difficult to begrudge his colleague a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona, saying he would "totally understand" the allure of one of Spanish football's two superpowers, from a footballing and family perspective. It is the concept of a switch to the Emirates that sticks in his craw. His expression of thinly veiled disdain for this option is both endearing and tactically astute. It is also a sharp reminder to his paymasters across the ocean.
"If he goes to Arsenal, it obviously makes our season that little bit more difficult," said Gerrard, displaying an adeptness for understatement. "It strengthens them an awful lot and they are our rivals for a top four position. From the club's point of view it doesn't make sense at all, no matter how much money is put on the table. Luis wants Champions League football and so do I. If he was to stay around for twelve months and we achieved a top four finish, there is no better place in the world to play Champions League football than in front of an Anfield crowd."
There were even more observations about how majestic Anfield is on European nights and how Liverpool really is the place to be for Suarez, but to this scribbler at least, the passion of the words centred more on the importance of keeping a wonderful footballer out of the clutches of Arsene Wenger -- always a noble sentiment! Gerrard is not blind to the annoyance and betrayal many fans feel, but he insists that should he stay, Suarez will not be found wanting when it comes to passion and professionalism.
"Giving one hundred percent is in his make-up," he said reassuringly. "If Luis Suarez was to go and have a game of football with a gang of kids, he would want to beat them. He's very similar to Wayne Rooney. They are street footballers. Whether they are playing two-a-side in the street or eleven against eleven in the Champions League, they will give everything they have got to win. It's great to have him on your team, I wouldn't like to play against him. He comes alive when he goes on the field. His will to win is frightening."
Steven Gerrard is a man who knows something of the power of inspiration, having provided so much for so long. Now, as he develops into a more all-round leader, he is showing another way to inspire -- through carefully chosen and well-timed words. At this rate, perhaps he will sit in the manager's seat before even Jamie Carragher does; but for now his firm resolve is that if Luis Suarez is to leave Anfield, it must be for balmy foreign shores rather than the grey drabness of North London. One might even say that the whole interview was a canny way of getting that precise message across, but that would be cynical, and we said we wouldn't do that.