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On Wasted Seasons and Tarnished Legacies

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Steven Gerrard is arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever player, but repeated attempts to ensure he has a key role in his final year have only served to waste a season and—at least in the short term—tarnish his legacy.

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A tired Steven Gerrard played passenger over 120 minutes against Chelsea, the ageing captain unable to provide any energy as the League Cup semi-final wore on. He commanded the base of midfield as Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League and got off to their worst start in the league in half a century. His impact against rivals Manchester United was straight red thirty seconds after he was introduced, ensuring a hugely damaging defeat.

On Sunday, against a struggling Aston Villa side in the FA Cup semi-final, the man who for many will always be remembered as Liverpool’s greatest ever player was again key to the club's failures. As endings go, the 2014-15 season has been about as bad as it could get for Steven Gerrard and Liverpool Football Club, and though long term the player’s legacy remains intact, in the now it’s hard not to think Gerrard has stuck around a season too long, and that by doing so he has greatly hurt Liverpool’s chances of achieving anything this year.

"We didn’t play well," admitted the captain following Sunday’s poor performance and the resulting, deserved defeat to Aston Villa that once and for all kills off any chance of Gerrard ending his Liverpool career with a last piece of silverware. "We looked nervous. We’re a team built on passing and paying it quickly, but we were disappointing in that aspect and they were better than us. We were very disappointing, and Aston Villa were much better than us, and that’s the overwhelming feeling after the game."

Sadly, unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly given the way things have gone this season, Gerrard looked about the worst of a group who were almost to a man had outplayed by the underdog, relegation-threatened Villans. The captain looked slow, his ponderous movement—despite having spent much of the past month resting thanks to that reckless United red card—offering no outlet when teammates had the ball in the first half and, when he was moved back in the second, things got even worse.

Sitting Gerrard at the base of midfield may have worked when Luis Suarez and a healthy Daniel Sturridge were the ones leading the attack in 2013-14. This season, it has never looked anything short of a disaster, and in the autumn manager Brendan Rodgers admitted to having stuck with the approach for far too long after it had become clear it wasn’t working. For a Liverpool side no longer equipped to play a quick counter game, Gerrard at the base of midfield has never come close to working.

Which made it equal parts depressing and frustrating when Rodgers sent the captain out in that role to start the second half against Villa, the sentimental need to give Gerrard a key role in some narratively satisfying FA Cup run trumping tactical sense and any knowledge gained through the four months of dire football that started the campaign. Liverpool’s season began in failure that was built on a foundation of Gerrard’s tired legs in midfield. It now, barring a miracle, has ended that way as well.

Mathematically there may still be a hope of the club finishing in the top four. Realistically, the season is over. And Gerrard has—sadly, unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly given the way events have transpired at every stage—now been key in the club's failure on every front. The need to honour Gerrard by giving him a key role in his final season has instead only served to make it look as though either he or his manager sees him as being bigger than the club. And that has only served to waste it.

Rodgers and Liverpool spent a season trying to send Gerrard out in style. The result of that is that Gerrard now ends his time at the club a liability on the pitch while Rodgers’ position on the bench has begun to look tenuous and Liverpool have wasted an entire year—wasted an easy Champions League group, two domestic cup runs, and a golden opportunity to retain a top four place. The result has been a harsh lesson in the dangers of setting out a player—any player—as being bigger than the club.

The result has been about the most depressing and unfortunate end to the club career of one of Liverpool's all-time greats as anybody could have imagined. And the scary thing for anybody counting themselves a Liverpool fan should be that while it's difficult to imagine things getting any better over the final six games of the league season, it can all still get worse.