In the midst of a few challenging seasons, it's been difficult to strike a balance when discussing Steven Gerrard. His performances clearly haven't been good enough on a consistent basis, yet pointing this out often comes with a good bit of discomfort given the influence he's had over the years. He's still capable of wowing, especially when given time and space or on set pieces, but there's little denying that his performance levels haven't been up to the standards he'd set earlier in his career.
They don't have to be, of course, and part of the problem in witnessing his current struggles is the constant comparison to his previous iterations. Steven Gerrard now is not Steven Gerrard from two or four or eight years ago; there's no shame in that, but it's hard to shake the memories of a player who was among the world's best in his position, capable of taking over matches across the continent and winning nearly every possible accolade along the way.
And while he might not be capable of performing similar feats after fifteen years as a member of Liverpool's senior squad, he's hopeful he'll have a say in helping the club get back to the type of consistent success that saw them as a mainstay near the top of the table for most of his career:
"I wouldn't change the last 15 years for anything in the world. They have been the best years of my life. I always take it season by season. I have another year on my contract after this season and I am very focused on what's going on this season. We've got ourselves into a good position and the challenges we set at the start of the season are still in sight. I realise I'm coming into the final chapters of my Liverpool career but I don't think my relationship with the club is coming to an end - that will carry on for a long, long time.
"I want to make the most of these last couple of years on the pitch. The last 15 years have flown by. It makes you appreciate how quickly times goes. The seasons fly by so I want to achieve as much as I can before I finish. I realise time isn't on my side but I hope there are a few more chapters to be written. We are in a very healthy position at the moment in the league and the FA Cup hasn't started yet. We have got two great opportunities to finish the season on a high. They are the kind of chapters I want to add to what I've already done. If I finish this season having had a really successful run in the FA Cup and in the top four in the Premier League I'll be very proud."
Starting tomorrow at Hull City, the captain has a chance to help Liverpool through one of the most important stretches in recent memory. Their status among the league's top teams rests on a knife edge; three "winnable" fixtures followed by a brutal two-week period that sees them travel to Spurs, Manchester City, and Chelsea before the year is up.
Steven Gerrard's career won't be judged on how Liverpool wrap up 2013, or even where they finish the current campaign, but a successful December run and strong push through the spring would go an awfully long way in helping him finish whatever business he feels is left to be done before his time is up.