The prospect of the All Star Charity match felt somewhat unwelcome immediately after Liverpool's loss to Manchester United at Anfield, especially with Steven Gerrard's inexplicably short but crucial contribution to the proceedings. However, celebrating the presence of such a legend during the international break became a slightly more heart-warming prospect in the hours before the match.
Seeing so many former favourites return to Anfield emphasised how loyal the captain has been. He was richly rewarded for his loyalty, but so would the other stars have been ... yet they moved elsewhere for the betterment of their respective careers. Is this criticism of individuals who presumably made calculated career moves that professional human beings make all the time? No. Staying and moving is part of a professional game where Liverpool benefit more than most when players of various ages decide to move in order to progress as a player and fulfil ambitions of playing at the top of the game. Playing for Liverpool has its own particular pressures that some players may find difficult to come to terms with, and some never do even with a wealth of talent to draw upon.
It's always easier to welcome players back if they haven't been playing and succeeding for a domestic rival, damaging Liverpool's hopes for something more in the process. That appears to be the case with Fernando Torres who left to challenge for and win titles, which he did, but was never particularly central to anything he won at Chelsea with the exception of the Europa League. Now 31 and back at the club where it all started for him, Atlético Madrid, he's not the villain he once was for Liverpool in the aftermath of leaving for a then British transfer record fee of £50 million.
Luis Suárez and Xabi Alonso left at their peak to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively for significant sums, while Pepe Reina's permanent move after reasons that still cause friction between Liverpool fans was to Bayern Munich as a reserve for arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer. These players were stars for Liverpool, essential components to any success the club was going to have. Steven Gerrard considered leaving on a few occasions, which he was entitled to do, but stayed at Liverpool until a stage where he is no longer a first team player. Jamie Carragher, another favourite who returned to Anfield last Sunday, regained his place in the team in his final season with some solid performances and hit the bar with a ferocious long-range drive in his final game.
Steven Gerrard, in contrast to Carragher, is finding his final defining moments far more tortuous than anyone could have predicted. However, he is not any player. It felt right that some of Liverpool's and the Premier League's greatest answered the call to join Gerrard in providing fun, entertainment, and an opportunity to say hello again as well as goodbye. It became more than just one player but reminded fans how loyal that one player had been. Gerrard could have left after being involved in two of Liverpool's greatest ever finals to earn a far bigger salary elsewhere. He probably would have won a league title instead of the close-run affairs witnessed in 2008/09 and 2013/14. In time, he may remember those campaigns fondly where he registered his best goal returns in the league and linked up with two strikers who were widely acknowledged as the league's best.
Now Liverpool fans could face the loss of a young star with two years remaining on his contract who may want more than what his current club can offer him in terms of wages and instantly challenging for honours. Steve McManaman experienced eight full campaigns before leaving on a Bosman transfer to Real Madrid, Michael Owen had seven before a cut-price move to the same destination. Both were seen as local talents acting disloyally to a club that gave so much to their careers but were 24 and 27. In a professional game, they made professional decisions. Raheem Sterling may do the same, but if he does, it should not alter appraisals of an exceptional talent. He may not be as loyal, sensible, or as well-advised as fans want him to be. He may not be as tied to the club as Liverpool's management thought when staying at Liverpool for at least two or three seasons would probably benefit all parties concerned. So what?
Players leave all the time, and sometimes they are ones fans would rather hold on to. However, fans must stop this senseless and immature revisionism. Not every player will be like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, unwaveringly loyal or loyal in spite of crises of faith in the Liverbird. Some players leave in ways that they'll regret in the future or continue to justify irrespective of any condemnation aimed at them. Again, this is all part of the game. The status of clubs grow and reduce over time no matter the financial or historical might behind them, and fans simply have to adjust expectations or risk a ceaselessly joyless experience in what is the world's most popular sport for an exceedingly good reason.
Shit players can be steadfast in their commitment to the club, especially one like Liverpool, and excellent players might not want to stay at your club more than a couple of seasons as they've got trophies to win and money to make that they might be able to accomplish in Liverpool colours. Cherish the good ones that do stay for the rare creatures they are, and sometimes recognise that they merit an extra testimonial or two.