By Manish Pandey.
The first thing to say, is that ego is not a bad thing. Particularly in sports, ego can often improve performance.
Lionel Messi has ego, Cristiano Ronaldo has ego, Paul Scholes had Roy Keane had ego, and Steven Gerrard has ego. Different types of ego, but egos nonetheless. It inspires them to try things on a football pitch that others would not dare try. They believe (with some validity), that they are quite simply, better than the other players on the pitch. They know they are world class.
The ego which can help dispatch last minute pressure penalties, inspire comebacks that can only be dreamt of and score goals of world class ability because they know they can. In any walk of life, you want to have an ego which tells you that you are better than anybody else at what you do, so whatever you do, you do with full confidence in yourself.
Yet, it is the role of ego which has influenced Steven Gerrard’s decision to leave Liverpool and join LA Galaxy in July. There is no right or wrong in this situation. Many Liverpool fans, with emotion running through their veins, are lambasting the club for ‘allowing’ Gerrard to go. “Give him more money!” “You should have offered a contract sooner!”
When cutting through the emotion, and looking at this situation for what it really is; a footballer of enormous skill, aged 34 and is out of contract at the end of the season. His contribution to the team in terms of goals and assists is still significant. His overall performances in the position he plays are not beneficial to the overall team performance. Is he however, worth keeping? The answer is yes.
Brendan Rodgers tries to copy several of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial tricks- most notably the envelope trick. He has done the right thing, the ‘Ferguson thing’, in this situation as well. He has told Gerrard, like Ferguson told Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, that the games they played needed to be managed, and that those players would be utilised as squad players.
As a manager, that is his right, to look out for the best interests of the team. The veteran players aren’t as consistent as they were yesteryear, so pick and choose the important games for them, giving them time to prepare specifically for each one. Ryan Giggs was told 3 weeks in advance he’d play against Real Madrid in the second leg in 2013.
Giggs was happy to accept his new role as a squad player. Scholes though, was not. He, like Gerrard, was unable to handle the thought of only being a squad player, so retired at the end of the 2010-2011 season. His ego- his mindset of knowing he had more skill than those around him on the pitch meant he could not handle being a squad player. It was only months into his retirement that he realised how much he missed playing Manchester United, and he returned to play for another 18 months, accepting his new role as a squad player.
The situation with Roy Keane is perhaps the one that mirrors Gerrad’s best. Keane was captain, his robust style of several years had taken a toll on his body. The coaches felt he would best serve the team from the capacity of a squad player, or as a player who did not need to expend much energy anymore – playing deep. Keane and Keane’s ego could not handle it.
Having been the main man, the leader, the focal point, Keane could not handle being something other than the Roy Keane of the 1990s. That, along with his personal issues with the club, culminated in his departure from the club.
Gerrard himself admitted something similar,
“From a professional point of view, everyone knows what I’m like and what I want.
“Since I was 16, 17 years of age, the moment I come into work on a Monday morning my preparations begin to play 90 minutes the following weekend.
“That’s the buzz. I’ve always worked hard all week to prepare and make sure my performance is right come the weekend.
“When it gets to the stage where you don’t know if you’re going to be starting or not it becomes different.
“I’ve never wanted to be a squad player. If I was missing games now, I’d be sitting out even more next season. I knew it would get worse and worse as time went on.”
Rodgers felt Gerrard could contribute to the squad, he would be the leader of the dressing room, a conduit between players and manager, a calm head in the tough situations.
Should Liverpool have tried harder to keep him? Yes. If one should accuse Liverpool of anything, it’s not of disrespect to a legendary player, rather of arrogance.
They thought the captain would never leave. He would always stay, no matter what. This is where they never thought of Gerrard as just a footballer. This is where they thought of him as the man so loyal, he would be the last one to leave the club. This is where they erred.
Gerrard is human. Like all footballers, he needs to feel loved, he needs to feel wanted. They should have opened informal talks with him the moment the World Cup ended, understood what Gerrard wanted from the future, try and persuade him of his importance to the squad. Play on his ego.
This is where Ferguson was masterful. More often than not, he was able to make a player feel as though the club would crumble without him.
Alas, it took Gerrard in the winter months to brief the media that he was not yet offered a new contract and bingo, a contract is then offered the next day. The perceptions, whatever the intentions, is what mattered. He and the public felt Liverpool were trying to force Gerrard out.
Liverpool wanted to keep Gerrard. Gerrard did not want to be a squad player. His ego would not allow him to be a squad player. The man who led from the front, ensuring everyone followed him, could not take being a peripheral figure, having once been the main man.
When time passes, perhaps Gerrard will seek to return to Liverpool through a loan move or otherwise, realising, like Scholes, how much he misses playing for his club.
Ultimately, the ego which brought much happiness to Liverpool, is the same ego which will bring a lot of heartbreak come May.