Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is reportedly in no hurry to refuse or accept the offer of a new contract at the club he has represented for his entire career.
The 34-year-old told reporters he would “decide when I’m ready” in the wake of his much lauded performance against Leicester and the delay is understood to relate to considerations over future lifestyle rather than money.
His reinvigorated performance against the Foxes has added fresh spice to the debate over his role within the club, which had come under scrutiny after some moderate performances amid the Merseysiders’ indifferent form this term.
Gerrard, 2/1 to net against Sunderland this weekend, has come to a point in the road when there are three likely trails ahead of him, but which really suits Liverpool best?
Below we consider his options, taking into account the ways in which Manchester United and Barcelona have parted company with players of similar standing in the past.
Continue playing in reduced role
The Liverpool captain’s performance against Leicester City has been widely heralded as evidence that he still has a great deal to offer the club despite his advancing years.
Such showings feed into the school of thought that Gerrard’s class and leadership should be protected and used with prudence in key games over the remainder of the campaign.
It’s certainly a view that his teammates subscribe to if Rickie Lambert is anything to go by, with the former Southampton star quoted in the Guardian as saying:
“I think I am speaking for everyone involved in Liverpool when I say that we are desperate to keep Stevie. It’s clear that it’s his decision and the club’s decision but I think he needs to stay at Liverpool for the rest of his life.
That’s just my opinion. He has got more than enough in the tank. He is still one of the best players around for me. Obviously he is not going to play every single game but he showed against Leicester what he can do.”
However, while there is little doubt Kopites would continue to be treated to the sight of Gerrard rolling back the years every now and again, there might also be a host of negatives to prolonging his first team residency.
Here Manchester United and their painfully prolonged parting with Paul Scholes offer a salient comparison.
Scholes was a player of commensurate worth to the Liverpool skipper in just about every way – a central midfielder in the world-class bracket at his peak and a one-club man to boot.
However, he lingered interminably in the twilight of his career, starting more than 16 league games just once in his final five seasons at Old Trafford.
The general effect of his remaining on the scene in a reduced capacity until his second retirement at the age of 38 was to mask the extent to which United’s midfield, based around him for so long, needed to be refurbished.
If Liverpool play the Gerrard situation the same way there’s little doubt they will fall into the same trap, with the prospects of an evolution in midfield hampered by his continued, if reduced presence.
Join the Anfield staff as a coach or player/coach
Brendan Rodgers is understood to have already told his captain that there is a place for him on Liverpool’s coaching staff when he decides to hang up his boots.
However, the end of Gerrard’s playing career is thought to remain around two years away.
As such, one option for next season would be for the former England skipper to begin coaching alongside his reduced playing duties as Ryan Giggs did under David Moyes at Old Trafford before moving into the dugout full time with Louis van Gaal.
The Welshman commanded huge respect from the United playing staff, but if anything Gerrard’s standing among the men he now calls his teammates is even greater.
Where Giggs was part of a generation of long-standing Red Devils, only Jamie Carragher can come close to the Liverpool leader in terms of what he means to the club in the post Robbie Fowler era – and herein lies the problem with inducting him onto the Anfield coaching staff.
His standing at the club and in his teammates estimations is so high that he would represent a direct threat to Brendan Rodgers’ authority.
The widely held belief that Giggs could be a future United manager certainly didn’t relieve the pressure for Moyes at the Theatre of Dreams after all.
Leave town for pastures new
Bizarre as it may seem, allowing their dear leader to sully his one-club man status by plying his trade elsewhere next season may actually benefit the Reds more than either keeping him on as a player, player/coach or coach.
Here the case of legendary Barcelona midfielder turned legendary Barcelona – and now FC Bayern Munchen – manager Josep Guardiola may prove pertinent.
Guardiola left Camp Nou after 17 seasons at the club where he had played ‘pivot’ for the feted ‘Dream Team’, winning 16 trophies alongside players such as Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronaldo.
He was just 30 years old when he set off for Italy, where he took in spells at Brescia and Roma, before further globetrotting stints at Al-Ahli in Qatar and Sinaloa in Mexico, where he ended his playing days.
The midfielder’s last trophy with the Catalans came three seasons before he quit the club, suggesting the need for a change suited both sides.
Within three seasons their next La Liga-winning side had been built by Frank Rijkaard.
That was 2004/05, still fully three campaigns before Guardiola returned to La Masia to manage Barcelona B, where he engaged in the creation of world-conquering style of football that elevated Los Blaugrana to the very pinnacle of the sport.
Leaving Liverpool offers Gerrard far more than the opportunity to line his pockets and top up his sun tan and it wouldn’t affect his standing in eyes of the faithful one iota.
If he is to return to bring his influence to bear in guiding the club to a brave new future some years down the line, a prolonged spell away from Merseyside could grant him some enlightening perspective.
A part of him must surely long for it after a lifetime in the Anfield goldfish bowl and the chance to view the club from the outside could only be beneficial when he does return.