Less than 24 hours after deciding he would rather leave Liverpool FC to find his dreams than stay and help make them come true, Captain Steven Gerrard has pledged his long-term future to the club in a last minute decision to stay. It takes guts to change your mind after such public declarations of betrayal, but like all sane, reasonable supporters of the club, I welcome him back into the fold after the utter rollercoaster of the past 5 days. He is our Captain, after all. The reasons I was so hurt and sad that he was leaving are the same, exact reasons I am so happy to see him back. He the face of the club, the man who lifted us to glory. He has been the heart and soul of the side, the name I have cheered to help the side when things were not going well, the person I always had one eye on as he made crunching tackles, surging runs, and breathtaking passes.
Get In, My Son: The Captain Is Back!!!
How did this saga happen? For the uninitiated, the story is as follows…
Last summer, with three years remaining on his contract, Gerrard, like many, believed the club were not buying enough talent to compete at the highest levels of the sport. We had finished fourth in the league and lagged woefully behind teams like Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea in terms of our form in the League. And so, Gerrard decided his own dream to win the Champions League, The League title in England, and other glories, would be better served by a move to Chelsea.
Last summer, after the Euro 2004 tournament, Gerrard had made up his mind that he would ask for a transfer. The word on the street was, he was off to Chelsea. However, in a dramatic last minute reversal, Gerrard decided to stay. It was susected he was simply waiting one year to see his own idea of the team proven right: that the side were too far behind ikn the league, that they couldn’t win any big silverware, that his own ambitions as a footballer were larger than what Liverpool could bring him. Then, we miraculously won the Champions League in May based primarily on Gerrard pulling the team together and lifting us to glory. Suddenly, there were no more excuses. Liverpool could win the big one… and Gerrard was the engine.
Returning from the Champions League final, Gerrard wanted a new contract that matched his salary with players of similar stature. This is not uncommon in European football, and no one, not even the accountants at Liverpool FC would argue with him; he was due a large pay day and that could be extended through another six years if he wanted; this was the moment to make Gerrard a Red for life. However, Gerrard’s agent went on vacation. Then, the Liverpool staff did. Then, contracts were sorted out for other players first; Didi Hamman re-signed for a team. Gerrard was waiting for the commitment he desired, but Liverpool, despite offering him a contract three times during the seaon and being asked to “wait” (Gerrard wanting to assure that the club could actually be a contender before signing), was now holding some cards, and the game was on.
From here in, it’s mostly speculation and heresay, but the story goes something like this:
Last Wednesday, Gerrard’s agent met with the team, who instead of making an offer, asked the agent what terms he would like in the contract. This apparantly upset Gerrard’s camp, who expected to be handed an offer that was comparable to that of other, well-paid midfielders. Then, by Friday, word started hitting the papers that (Liverpool manager) Rafa Benitez “wants me out”– that Liverpool never intended to sign Gerrard and instead hoped to sell him for 30+ million pounds in order to buy other players. Gerrard, it was said, felt betrayed and wanted out.
This is not unusual in contract negotiations in English football. Agents often leak information in the press in order to put public pressure on clubs and get the deals they want.
On Monday, Benitez held a press conference pledging his desire to keep Gerrard for life He said:
“I can assure our fans that we want Steven Gerrard to stay with us.
“I renew my deal with Liverpool in four or five years and when I do I would like Stevie to be my next coach, the assistant manager and maybe even the next manager after me. He can even have the chief scout position if he wants it.
“I want him to stay with the club. We are trying to build a better team and a better squad and I want Stevie to be a major part of that.
“Last season I tried to get Stevie to sign a new deal three times. On each occasion he said wait, so we waited.
“This year we want to win more trophies and that is why we are improving our squad with new signings.”
This placed the ball back in Gerrard’s court. What excuse could he come up with now? The answer was, none. Yesterday, Gerrard said he wanted to go.
“The last six weeks have been the toughest of my life. The decision I have come to has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I fully intended to sign a new contract after the Champions League final but the events of the past five or six weeks have changed all that. I have too much respect for the club and the people at it to get involved in a slagging match.
Rumours hit the papers this morning as well, stating that Gerrard was being disrespected and that there was a personality clash between the Captain and the brilliant manager Rafa Benitez. The Liverpool fans around the world were furious, including myself, and some supporters even burned his jersey in effigy. Overnight, Gerrard and Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry spoke about a new, improved contract that paid the midfielder on equal terms with Chelsea superstar Frank Lampard.
Suddenly, a change of heart.
Today, in his hometown Liverpool Echo, Gerrard finally went on the record.
“The last five or six weeks were the hard-est of my life because I wrongly believed the club didn’t want me. I don’t want to get into attaching blame to anyone.
“If I blame anyone, it’s myself. I wanted my future sorted out as soon as possible after the Champions League final and when that wasn’t the case, the longer it went on, the more misunderstandings there were.
“There was confusion and doubt in my mind. I had discussions with the manager, but the reports of bust-ups are complete nonsense. Now I know how much the club wants me.
“I feel I must defend my agent, Struan Marshall, in this. He’s taken a lot of stick but all along he’s never done anything I didn’t ask him to.
“He’s well respected at Liverpool and has done deals for me and other players in the past. He’s conducted himself in the right way. He’s a big factor in my decision to stay and organising the contract.
“I’ll be signing the deal, maybe even today. I’d also like it known there are no clauses in that contract. This won’t be happening again next summer or ever again, so far as I’m concerned.
“I’ve committed my long-term future to the club and I want all the speculation to end now. This is what I’ve wanted all along. I feel there is a weight off my mind today and I just want us to put this mess behind us.
“I’ve only one medal left to win at Liverpool and that’s the Premiership. That’s what I want more than anything and Liverpool is the only place I’ve ever wanted to win it.
“I know there are some fans who’ll be supportive and some who won’t be. All I can say is it’s been a difficult period for me, but I know I’ve made the right decision.
“In my heart, this is my club. I want to help bring success here for them and, for their sake and my own, I never want to go through this again.
“I had the whole of yesterday to think about my decision and what I was doing. I turned off my phone and my television and went through it all in my head again.
“After considering everything that’s gone on, I just couldn’t go through with it and leave this club. I never said I wanted to leave in the first place, but I’d felt I was being backed into a corner and had to push things on.
“I know it was going to look as though I wanted to go, but at one stage I thought I had no choice. When I thought about it more, I just wanted to stay.
“I admitted I’ve made mistakes and the club has acknowledged they’ve made some mistakes as well. But now we’ve sorted it out and I’m doing what I wanted to do all along, which is stay at Liverpool.
“I’ve now apologised to Liverpool and they’ve apologised to me, which is important. I was left feeling so confused yesterday. I was receiving all kinds of advice and information from so many people, but I just had to sit down with my girlfriend and advisor and think it all through again for myself. I was just thinking ‘How have we got into this mess and what’s the best way out of it?’. I knew I had to do what I’d intended doing all along and sign a new contract.
“I made the decision last night that I couldn’t leave this club. I love Liverpool so much. This is my club. My heart is with Liverpool. I don’t need to tell anyone that. Everyone who knows me can see how I feel. The last thing I wanted to do was leave, I just couldn’t do it.
“My relationship with the supporters has always been fantastic and I knew a lot of people would be disappointed if I’d decided to go. I thought about the fans and the future.
“As I’d said all along, I never wanted to leave. I don’t want to go into details now about what happened over the last few weeks because the most important thing now is we can sort it out.
“I’m going to sign a new contract and, like I’ve always done, will be doing everything possible to make Liverpool successful again.
“It’s been a bit of a mess but now we can sort it out and move forward. As I’ve said, we can all learn things from this. Now we all want to look forward.”
I wrote some terribly angry words about our Captain yesterday, but with this pledge, all is well in Liverpool land and we can get about the business of defending our Champions League title.
Back to the movies… Welcome home, Stevie.