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Managing a Legend

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Having recently disembarked from the Hodgson-helmed Good Ship England, the received wisdom is that now Steven Gerrard will be able to play more matches for Liverpool, but the extent of the skipper's involvement has yet to be seen.

Flanno was sick of having to grease Brendan's palm but it was the skipper's tips that really made the manager smile creepily.
Flanno was sick of having to grease Brendan's palm but it was the skipper's tips that really made the manager smile creepily.
Alex Livesey

For many reading this Steven Gerrard is Liverpool. In some cases, the iconic captain's brilliance and on-pitch charisma will have been the reason that lifelong relationships with the club were formed. If you are afflicted with anything approaching the same level of decrepitude as your scribbler, you will have seen the entirety of the Huyton man's career at Anfield, its soaring highs and crushing lows. The ineluctable conclusion to be drawn after witnessing those 16 years is that Gerrard is an all-time great. Where, in your particular pecking order, he ranks is an altogether different discussion --one to be chaired by a less pinaciphobic sort than myself. The point, dear reader, is that the captain's famously earnest mini-frown will glower out from every list.

As outlined in Tuesday's offering, the decision to step away from England will not have been an easily taken one for Gerrard. His patriotism is fierce and one wonders if pragmatism would have been quite so dominant in the discussion if there had been a coach of Brendan Rodgers' abilities currently in charge of the national side. Gerrard may be quietly pleased to disassociate himself from the relentless drive towards mediocrity and lowered expectations that is Hodgson's métier.

Within the space of a few months the increasingly communicative and relaxed Liverpudlian saw Hodgson steer a talented bunch of players to the attainment of a solitary point in a wretched World Cup campaign. Gerrard will have noted that the FA response was to reward the Master Tactician of Neuchatel Xamax with assurances about his future for a further two years. This, after playing in a Rodgers-inspired Liverpool who missed out on the Premier League by the narrowest of margins on the final day. During that glorious season, the Antrim man solved the puzzle of how best to utilise his captain and Gerrard responded by playing some of the most complete and influential football of his career. The contrast must have been spirit shockingly stark. The conversation with the England manager may have been brief indeed.

RH: Steven m'lad. I really think we have a tremendous shot overcoming the very real threat of San Marino and Lithuania and finishing second in our Euro 2016 qualifying group.

SG: With Danny Welbeck as the left-sided attacker? All the best... (sniffs dismissively)

Whatever the reality of Gerrard's departure from Club England, the fact remains that Liverpool Football Club will benefit from his ability to focus solely on the Liverbird whilst abandoning the Three Lions to their angst-ridden confinement in the Hodgsonian zoo. To that end, Rodgers, a shrewd man-manager, had been involved in an ongoing dialogue with the recent convert to beard-sporting. One does not have to be a student of Machiavellian machinations to suspect that in those chats the 41 year old may have had an agenda.

"I'd spent a lot of time talking to Steven on it, because I know how much it means to him to captain his country," revealed the Anfield boss. "He has been a wonderful captain. But Liverpool is everything to him and there's certainly no doubt that by missing out on international football, it will make him fresher. He'll be ready to be at his optimum level as often as he possibly can. For us at Liverpool, it's great. It brings an end to what has been a great career for England."

This, of course, is the time of year when contracts are typically renewed or altered and whilst Gerrard has already an arrangement in place with the club regarding a future ambassadorial role, all that will concern him, especially in the wake of his England abdication, is getting as much pitch time as possible for Liverpool. Rodgers has overplayed the captain in the past. There is no doubt of it. Now both men are faced with a new stage in their shared creeer arc. As a young manager of relative top flight inexperience, Rodgers was quick to find trusted lieutenants. Gerrard was, and remains, chief amongst those but his perpetual desire to play and his manager's wish to select him may be about to lead to some awkward moments.

It will not take any more than two consecutively poor performances for the rabid screeching to begin from the jumpier corners of the Liverpool fan base. There are many who yearn for an utter reinvention of the side and will loudly advocate the beginning of a post-Gerrard era. Others, blind to all but the finest attributes of the number eight will back his inclusion irrespective of his performance level. Realistically, if Gerrard can reproduce the imperious and massively influential form of January to May 2014, there is simply no sane rationale for his omission, but is the make up of the side about to change? For now, all Rodgers will do is express his relief that he will have his captain to lean on for the time being.

"A lot has gone on at the club over the course of the summer," Rodgers opined. "I'm very happy that Steven Gerrard is now going to commit to Liverpool and I am sure that [his contract] is something that we will look at. He is in real good condition and I’m sure it's something that will happen at some point. I know that he can continue to play on beyond this season. I have always said that. Now he doesn’t have international football, he will have that freshness. I think it is something that will be looked at by the club."

In Emre Can and Adam Lallana, Rodgers has begun to improve the depth of quality at midfield. Fanciful rumours persist about the likes of Arturo Vidal and, as yet, none of the current squad incumbents have moved on. The absurdly fit Jordan Henderson will surely start every match and Philippe Coutinho, as the "brain" of the side is likely to feature regularly, as one imagines, are the two new boys. Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva may well be feeling a little anxious just now, especially when one considers that the captain, should he reprise his form from the latter half of the campaign just ended, will be an unshiftable fixture in the side. For fans, however, it's all very exciting indeed.