Steven Gerrard is expected to make his comeback this evening against Swansea, but manager Brendan Rodgers says that doesn’t mean he’s walking straight back into the starting eleven. At times over the past few years, the manager has appeared to manage his captain’s minute based more on sentiment than sense, but Rodgers insists it will only be about what’s best for the team and player.
"I’m respectful, and this guy is one of the greatest players in the history of the Pemier League and arguably the greatest player in the history of this club, but what I do know is Stevie always puts the team first," began the Liverpool manager. "I have huge respect for him whether he is playing or not, and huge admiration for him as a player and person. But I’m not one to make emotional decisions.
"For me it’s about picking and finding the right balance in the team and what makes the team function to ultimately win, and he still has those big qualities we will need between now and the end of the season. What you have seen over my time here is I rely on the team. That team has to have good players in in, but ultimately it is about the team and what is going to benefit it and how we can get results."
It’s hard to argue with the notion that Gerrard might be Liverpool’s best ever player, or that he still does have qualities that could make him integral to the club’s top four and FA Cup push. Some, though, would take issue with Rodgers’ insistence that the team always has and always will come before the individual, particularly when it’s come to how he’s used Steven Gerrard.
The manager stuck with his captain in the holding role far too long this season, and while Rodgers’ ingenuity will be credited if Liverpool manage to make the top four, if they cannot overcome their start it will be equally fair to blame his stubbornness. That stubbornness when it came to Gerrard then returned against Chelsea in the League Cup and saw Liverpool throw away a chance at a final.
Still, even if Rodgers has likely gotten the answer wrong as often as right in the past when it’s come to managing Gerrard’s minutes and role, dealing with the slow decline and looming departure of perhaps the club’s greatest ever player is an admittedly unenviable position for a young manager to find himself in. And in the end, all the bumps in the road will be forgotten if the season ends well, both for Liverpool and Gerrard.
"There are things you have to manage, and one of them is managing the situation here with arguably the greatest player to have played for the club as he nears the end of his career," added the manager. "There are challenges—Luis Suarez, Jamie Carragher. It’s about managing all these situations whilst trying to build a team and make this club competitive again at the very highest level. You earn your money."