November 16, 2012 by seancole1875
You wouldn’t think the above was in any way a contentious statement to make. After all, why should the recently anointed England centurion’s place as one of the most influential attacking midfielders of his generation be up for debate? However, the revisionists have been out in force, rewriting Steven Gerrard’s career as symptomatic of wider failings in English football, his all-action style an abject lesson in our blockheaded approach that stretches from grassroots to the top level.
Clichés only gain traction when they are possessed of an element of truth, so accusations that physicality thrives here where subtlety rightly should are not without foundation. An unhelpful fixation on height, strength, stamina and the ability to punt the ball long distances at youth level exists. Shouts of ‘get rid’ from overzealous, risk-averse parents stalking the sidelines of Sunday games undoubtedly occur. Likewise Gerrard can be careless in possession and too fond of the overly ambitious ‘Hollywood pass’, but this is unfairly used as an ideological stick to beat him with.
Liverpool’s midfield, attempting to adapt to the Brendan Rodgers way, are seemingly at the centre of a puritanical debate over preferred styles. By aesthetes Gerrard is regarded as the proponent of careless, wayward dynamism, while his central midfield partner Joe Allen is the paragon of metronomic precision. They are as much ciphers as actual footballers, mistakenly seen as opposite and irreconcilable ends of the same spectrum.
This idea that the two simply cannot co-exist was confirmed by the decision to clear Andy Carroll out of Anfield at the end of the summer transfer window. Left with Luis Suarez and the now injured Fabio Borini as his only senior strikers, the pragmatic option of retaining Liverpool’s record signing was anathema to Rodgers’ Spanish-influenced ideals. Although Spain themselves keep the towering Fernando Llorente as back-up and potential plan B, resorting to the occasional directness was deemed unacceptable, a tacit admission of failure.
In an environment where possession is prized to such an increasingly absurd degree, we seem to have lost sight of what it’s really intended for. Holding onto the ball and keeping it in constant circulation is but a means to an end, eventually opening up the opposition and scoring a goal, rather than an achievement in itself. And if we continue to lionise those with the highest pass completion rates at the expense of those willing to make the decisive move, we risk turning football into a shuttling, sideways game lacking in goalmouth action.
Ultimately, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard are both fine footballers whose talents lie in different directions. The former is a tidy pass and move player who supplies the latter with the chance to change games. Gerrard may lose the ball more often and make more identifiable mistakes than his Welsh colleague but this is the nature of his game, the need to sometimes force the issue in the final third. Contrary to popular opinion here is no inherent moral superiority in Allen’s style and seeking to restrict the variety of football would be to its detriment.