Does Gerrard Get Preferential Treatment?

Does Gerrard Get Preferential Treatment?
November 27, 2013 Chris Rowland

by Chris Rowland.

“From his manager”, we meant, but it wouldn’t fit in the title box!

This week’s Symposium was sparked by a comment this week from 2yyiam saying ‘how much longer will Gerrard continue to get preferential treatment?’ So we decided to ask our Oracle, the Symposium panel, to answer it for us.

Jon Rushton: A nice easy question! Blooming heck…

I’d say that a player’s benefit extends beyond their performances on the pitch. Setting aside the commercial side of things, one aspect that Rodgers has clearly focused on is mentality. I happen to be of the school of thought that mentality is a far greater concern than tactics – and clearly Gerrard is a master of mentality.

As his body clock ticks away, it’s easy to forget that our captain’s most memorable exploits took place when our back was firmly against the wall – often in the closing minutes of a game. I’m a big fan of a young team, I don’t see any point in buying a footballer whose best years are behind him – but is there not a concern that, if you go completely down this road, that you lose the hard-won experience of players who have seen it and done it all before?

By having Gerrard in the team, there’s a living and breathing symbol on the pitch of this kind of winning mentality. Granted he might be huffing and puffing a bit at the 89th minute – but he can still swing in an inch-perfect cross to snatch an important assist in a Merseyside derby at this crucial moment.

This only partially explains why he’s rarely subbed off even when we’re streets ahead of the opposition. The other aspect is keeping Gerrard onside of course. I could write this passage as though we lived in a theoretical vacuum whereby keeping the key characters inside and outside of the dressing room on your side was irrelevant to a manager in terms of delivering success. In this theoretical world, only tactics and the physical abilities of the players exists. However, as Rafa learnt when he lost key characters at Anfield in his final year – football managers don’t exist in a vacuum, and managing relationships and loyalties is important.

Of course, if you put too much emphasis on this – at the cost of results – you’ll equally find yourself at the managerial job centre. But you do need to factor it in, or plan for your next job. That’s reality – like it or not.

All-in-all, my personal opinion is that Gerrard should be rotated. But then, who is to say we would be sat in second place in the league if Rodgers listened to me?

Dave Cronin: I don’t see how anyone can argue that Steven Gerrard doesn’t get preferential treatment from the manager.  The evidence is clear.

Rodgers has been an advocate of places in the team being earned, so we’ve seen players like Downing, Skrtel, Henderson and most recently Flanagan coming in or out of the team based on their form in matches and training.

Gerrard appears exempt from that meritocracy. He starts every League game and important cup game when fit and I think he’s been subbed by Rodgers in just two League games since BR has been at the club and both were due to injuries. He’s never taken off when he’s having a bad game and he’s had a fair few.

Rodgers has a track record of giving players a rollocking in the full glare of the media when he feels they deserve it. He’s done it with Sterling, Enrique, Downing and most recently Sturridge. However, you would never hear him criticising his captain in that way even though, like Sturridge, Gerrard played a pointless international friendly whilst carrying an injury last week.

So yes, I absolutely believe that Gerrard gets special treatment.

However, Rodgers’ job is not to treat players equally or even fairly. His job is to get the best out of the collection of players at his disposal. Maybe his public kick up Sturridge’s backside will inspire a higher level of performance from our No.15 or at least make him reconsider jeopardising his club commitments by playing for Hodgeland when injured in future. We’ve infamously seen under Rafa that publicly kicking Gerrard up the backside is likely to have the opposite effect.

Rodgers does not need a power struggle and Stevie has a huge amount of influence at Liverpool and arguably more cachet than this his boss. Stevie is also a key player and there is clear and tangible value in having him on the pitch even if only to take set pieces (my only issue is where he is utilised against the better opponents).

The team spirit and morale in the squad seems to be strong so why risk losing that by upsetting the captain? It might be one rule for one and another for others, but if we continue to pick up points at the rate we have this season, I don’t care and if other players wanted to moan about it, the obvious riposte is “When you’ve done as much for this club as Stevie, you’ll deserve some preferential treatment”.

Alun Evans (FirePhoenix23): It’s a really easy question to answer. Yes, Gerrard gets preferential treatment. But as that would make my submitted piece really, REALLY short, I think I should elaborate a bit.

First of all I just want to make the point that Gerrard is a top, top player, and when discussing Gerrard it is always worth noting that he is the best Liverpool player of a generation without a shadow of a doubt and deserves any respect and admiration he is afforded. How many times has Gerrard won a game for Liverpool with his bare hands (or his booted feet technically, he’s not Luis Suarez after all!)? But to elevate Gerrard to some sort of untouchable icon (which is what I think managers tend to do) is to buy into the idea that Gerrard is infallible. He’s not. How many Liverpool teams have been built to compensate for Gerrard’s inefficiencies? How many times has a player been put into the midfield to make up for the things that Gerrard can’t, won’t or doesn’t do? As the metaphorical first name on the teamsheet I’m willing to bet that managers have been doing this for many years, with the exception of Rafa Benitez who had the audacity to move Gerrard onto the wing because, while it may have made Gerrard himself less effective (although this point is in itself open to debate) it made the TEAM better.

As he gets older we should be seeing less and less of Gerrard, but unfortunately we seem to be seeing as much as we ever did. Sentiment be damned, Gerrard should be phased out in the same way that Carragher was and let’s get some much needed balance to the middle of the park, without the need to employ a “minder” to cover for another one of Gerrards trademarked tactically ill-advised lung bursting runs.

Dan Kennett: The problem we have is that only one person knows the answer to that question: Brendan Rodgers.

Personally I’m not into speculation on things I can never know, my approach is to think about related questions that we might be able to answer instead.  Some such questions are:

1) Is Steven Gerrard in the team on merit? Personally I think that he is still our best all-round midfielder. He has big weaknesses off the ball but Lucas, Henderson and Allen all have big weaknesses too, just different ones.

2) If Steven Gerrard is dropped, are we confident that the team would at least match the current level of performances and results? We’re averaging two points a game this season, have only lost eight of the last 45 PL games (when Gerrard has started 43 of them) and are averaging 1.84 PPG over those 45 matches (70 points for the season).

This tells me that, overall, what we’re doing is working. So do you really need to take the risk of dropping Gerrard? What would our creativity be like without Gerrard? Could we get a reliable penalty taker for those pressure moments?

3) How significant is the current “midfield problem”? We’ve conceded 81 shots in our own box this season, the same as Man United. City are the best in the league with just 54 and Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and Southampton all have between 60 and 69.

Could we be better in this regard? Quite probably, but would we lose a bit going forward if we tried to change it?

Personally I’d settle for an upgrade to Lucas in January and a tailored approach to the away games v Spurs, Man City and Chelsea before then.

Daniel Rhodes: Because it’s virtually impossible to quantify how much Gerrard brings when he’s on the ball compared to the potential damage his off-the-ball non-actions cause, the idea of preferential treatment is, likewise, so tough to judge.

He’s also the captain, and current playing legend, so it’d be naive to not acknowledge the political implications of regularly dropping Gerrard; however, if Rodgers genuinely believes Gerrard is costing Liverpool points with his defensive frailties, and still selects him, then he’s putting the team’s fortunes at risk for the sake of avoiding some kind of backlash from fans if dropping him doesn’t work out. Not a good move, at all.

I think his off-the-ball weaknesses aren’t nearly as exposed against sides who play Liverpool with the sole intention of avoiding defeat. In those games, he’s a must-starter, because sometimes all you need is world class ability on the ball to break these sides down. Against the best sides though, the balance is altered, and Gerrard’s lack of mobility and positional discipline are highlighted, acutely at times (Arsenal and Everton).

I can’t get off the fence on this one – it is such a loaded accusation, that to conclusively assert our manager puts individual egos ahead of team progress, I need more evidence. I would question his selection against the more mobile midfields, especially if he’s being asked to patrol the back four in the double pivot. But that is a slight difference of opinion rather than a case-closed example of preferential treatment. All fans come from a point of general ignorance when trying to assess what happens in training, fitness test results, the distance covered in games, the other options for taking set pieces, and a whole host of other sources of info, so if Rodgers is picking the team he thinks will best contribute to a Liverpool victory, then that’s a mere difference of opinion. If he picks him against Arsenal because he’s worried what the press and fans will think, then that poses far more serious questions.

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