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The career of Steven Gerrard seems to parallel one of the oldest cliches in sports and entertainment: Never overstay your welcome.
Gerrard, the Captain of the Liverpool FC in England is leaving the only team he’s ever played for or supported to join the LA Galaxy over the summer. He is leaving after a mostly up and down year, with some highlights mixed in but no where near the height of his powers anymore. He is a player diminished though not entirely bereft of ability. In short, it is the right time for him to move on.
I was first aware of Gerrard when I happened to catch the final of the Champions League match between Liverpool and AC Milan on television in 2005. A lifelong soccer fan, I had always been searching for matches on TV and picked a doozy to re-kindle my interest.
Liverpool trailed 3-0 at halftime, which in soccer terms is essentially game, set, match. Not on this night however, as Gerrard led a stirring comeback with Liverpool eventually winning the game and competition on penalties after coming all the way back. From that moment on, I was hooked again, not just on watching soccer, but with Liverpool and with watching this whirling dervish of a player: Steven Gerrard.
Soccer had been a primary sport of my childhood, as I played it from around age 5 until my senior year of high school with varying degrees of success. Yet, my interest in following it as a fan was about the same as typical American: High during World Cup time, non-existent otherwise.
That changed in 2005 after witnessing this match and with soccer gaining more and more airtime all over the networks.
As the time has passed since then, following Liverpool’s ups and downs became as important to me as the Yankees and Giants seasons. The highs of winning a Cup or a big game have been as great as the lows, such as last season which saw the team come oh so close to finally winning the League only to have it fall just short.
Gerrard has become, much like Derek Jeter and Eli Manning, a symbol of my sports identity, the figure that is the constant in an ever-changing landscape. His loyalty to his childhood club is a rarity, not just in the transfer happy soccer universe, but all of sports, where players usually chase money above glory. Gerrard famously almost left more than once but in the end opted to stay and fight on.
His passion for the club, his desire to win at all costs, even playing over the edge at times, truth be told and above all, a brutal, matter of fact honesty about himself and his team will stay with me long after his last match ends in Europe.
As the Liverpool fans famously say: YNWA, which stands for You’ll Never Walk Alone. A phrase which has a history as storied, haunted and resonate as any in sports. It’s a fighting tribute to the club and to the player who has given his all to it.