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There's No Crying In Football

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A look at what it means to be a fan, and how much of a part sentimentality should play in football.

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It's been one week since the whispers began circulating that Steven Gerrard was headed out of Liverpool at the end of this season. Within less than twenty-four hours, what seemed like typical Twitter gossip was confirmed by the club and then Gerrard himself, sparking the internet to eat itself with a combination of anger, surprise and grief. Happy New Year, everyone.

In the days which followed, everyone from Jamie Carragher down to your own mother has had something to say about the situation: Gerrard's motivations, Rodgers's culpability and the club's inability to seal the deal. Best of Gerrard video montages set to Evanescence songs have been put together, stories have been swapped, pictures retweeted and feelings spewed just...everywhere. So many feelings. I dare you to try and count the number of times in the past seven days you've heard Andy Gray's oleaginous voice bellowing that famous, "Oh, you beauty!" Run out of fingers yet?

A quick peek at my Twitter activity for this first, inauspicious week of 2015 will show you that I certainly haven't been immune to this. In fact, I'm still hoping that someone will put together a tribute video for Stevie that incorporates the "When you can't run you crawl" speech from Firefly, so I can watch it and cry and cry. (Make it happen, internet!!)

But that's the thing: we're fans. What would even be the point of us if our weeks didn't hinge on the football results; if we couldn't analyze and argue over minutiae like pass completion statistics and their importance ("but what if he's passing backwards!"); if we didn't canonize our best players and condemn the same of our opponents? The Miracle of Istanbul, Anfield is my church, etc. That's our job.

Sentimentality in football is what, every transfer window since 2011 when confronted with the inevitable would you take Torres back for x amount question, has made you think, just for a second, "Well, if he had Gerrard there with him..." It's what sparks the baseless, yet persistent Xabi Alonso transfer rumors. It's what made otherwise reasonable people say with genuine confusion during the muck of 2012, "But why wouldn't insert-big-name-here want to play for Liverpool?"

We're fans, but Steven Gerrard is a professional football player. Now let me be clear: please don't take what I'm about to say to mean that I don't think Steven Gerrard loves Liverpool Football Club. Of course he does; obviously he does. But this is his job, and he's given the club all of his best years. He didn't go to London or Munich or Madrid when he had the chance. He stayed and gutted it out through some of the club's worst times to earn his legendary status among supporters. In the last ten years, he's had a hand in every memorable moment this club has seen.

He won't be retiring with them.

But, sentimentality aside, is it really that bad? He wants to see out his career in a place where he'll be a big fish in a small pond and play every minute of every game. Does Steven Gerrard have an ego? Show me someone performing every week in front of 50,000 people who doesn't. When a person chooses a career that only lasts twenty years, is it wrong of them to want to wring every single second out of it? LA also has the benefit of gorgeous weather, plenty of attractions and maybe a tenth of the level of scrutiny he receives while playing in England. He's unlikely, for instance, to tune into a Chicago Fire v Portland Timbers game only to hear the crowd singing an insulting song about him. After fifteen years, and particularly this season, I'd imagine that would be a relief in itself.

We're fans, Steven Gerrard is an athlete, but FSG? They run a business. The men who reinstated Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool manager three months into their reign certainly understand the power of sentiment when running a huge sports dynasty. Those same men who sacked him 18 months later also recognize the importance of pragmatism. So where does Steven Gerrard fit on this spectrum? If he's not your pick for greatest ever Liverpool player, he undoubtedly makes the top five. He's the captain of the team, the public voice of the players and, by all accounts, universally respected in the dressing room. He's also past his prime. He's reached the point where his body can't keep up with what his mind tells him to do. Fitting him into the team three times a week is taking away from the development of other, young midfielders and negatively affecting the team's results.

Steven Gerrard prioritizes continuing to play every minute of every game over retiring with his lifelong club: fact. It has proven detrimental to the club's form for him to continue to play every game: fact. Steven Gerrard would be extremely effective as an impact sub and gallivanizing force off of the bench: fact. He's unwilling or not ready to play that role: fact.

So how was FSG to deal with these issues in a satisfying manner in order to keep Stevie at Liverpool? Should they have acquiesced to his desires and continued to make him the first name on the team sheet despite his declining form? Or perhaps they could have lied or held off on the infamous "conversation" between him and Brendan Rodgers until he had already signed on the dotted line? Maybe they could have taken a lesson from JFK and tried an inspirational speech: "Ask not what your club can do for you, but what you can do for your club."

Personally, if I owned Liverpool Football Club, I would have paid him an absurdly ridiculous amount of money to do his part for one more year, and then hope he chose to retire after that to save me having to deal with it. Then when he did retire, I'd throw a parade for him on the streets of Liverpool, retire his number and rename the Kop the "Gerrard Appreciation Section."

But I'm a fan. That's how we roll.