Sands of time shifting uneasily for Gerrard as inevitable endgame looms

Bobby Moore’s sudden decline a salutary warning for Liverpool legend

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in action against  West Ham United. Photograph: EPA

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in action against West Ham United. Photograph: EPA

 

There is a scene in the new biography of Bobby Moore by Matt Dickinson where Moore is found sleeping in a Moscow park in the middle of a summer’s night in 1973. It is Mike Summerbee who discovers Moore, the two men on England’s end-of-season tour. Moore, an insomniac, had wandered from the team hotel.

“It was a lovely park, lilac trees hanging down, a lovely smell,” Summerbee recalls. “I headed over to a bench and who was fast asleep there but Mooro. We stayed there from about half past two till six in the morning.”

It is an arresting image, England’s golden captain, 1966 and all that, lying on a park bench in a foreign city in the early hours of the morning. It says something about when the end has begun.

When they got up, Moore and Summerbee dusted themselves down and “headed straight to Lenin’s Tomb on Red Square”. Moore was about to earn his 106th England cap, equalling Bobby Charlton, but Moore was past his 32nd birthday and some were already throwing soil on his international career.

England had just arrived in the USSR from Chorzow, where Poland had won 2-0 in a qualifier for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.

Moore had been at fault. He was slowing down and over-stretching. In the hotel room in Chorzow, he agonised aloud about this decline, which seems, to him, to have felt sudden.

There would be two more caps but Chorzow proved to be Moore’s last competitive England match. He was dropped for the return against Poland at Wembley, when Norman Hunter stalled on the touchline and Peter Shilton dived over the ball.

Financial worries

That is a rather more famous occasion than Chorzow but for an alarmed Moore, the countdown on his playing days had started in Poland.

It is a process some handle better than others and Moore’s included highs and lows – an FA Cup final with Fulham, a strange period in third division Denmark, and mounting financial worries. Moore’s epic self-restraint is the theme of an absorbing book, but as the afternoons petered out even he confessed his irritation with “bores” who clung onto players – and with “being me”. This made a noise because Bobby Moore did not gripe.

The complaint about bores came to mind during the second half of Manchester City versus Chelsea last Sunday.

As Frank Lampard equalised for City against his former club, in the background could be heard a chant taunting a player who was not even there – Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard, like Moore, is a former England captain coming to terms with his immediate future – and, at 34, the expectation of being him. If Moore was haunted by his dallying in Poland, Gerrard is taunted for his slip at Anfield. It came in April, at home to Chelsea and allowed Demba Ba to score; five months on the chorus about Gerrard being “on his arse” rumbles.

This is tedious for the neutral, and it must be for Gerrard, but it could also nag. Should he hear it today from Evertonians at Anfield, it will surely also hurt.

It will probably come, it usually does, and will add to the swirl of opinion around Gerrard which, to him, may feel as sudden and alarming as it did to Moore. Having woken up last Saturday morning to be informed by his opponent at West Ham, Alex Song, that Gerrard could play top-level football until the age of 40, Gerrard went to bed on Saturday night with questions raised as to whether he could play on Tuesday night against Middlesbrough.

This is the bi-polar world of football analysis. Between comments, Gerrard participated in Liverpool’s bland performance at Upton Park, one that saw them lose 3-1. The Liverpool captain was deemed to have been particularly ineffective and this flowed into a debate on Gerrard’s longevity.

What seemed certain to Alex Song seemed uncertain to many others.

Combative midfielder

Gerrard didn’t make Tuesday night. He rested his bones as a boy half his age, literally, made the headlines. Jordan Rossiter, a 17-year-old one-time Everton fan, scored the opener against Boro.

A combative midfielder, Rossiter has been dubbed, inevitably, “the next Stevie G”. It is presumptuous, of course, and so is the idea of Gerrard’s endgame.

Time awaits young Rossiter, it is something he will gain each week; for Gerrard time is something he loses each week. The self-appointed body linguists point to Gerrard’s furrowed brow as evidence of the impact his diminishing physical resources are having on his psychological state.

And “the Chelsea slip” may sting still, especially as he hears about it wherever he goes.

But perhaps as relevant is that Gerrard played five Premier League games and one Champions League game in 31 days. In each he played 90 minutes. Lampard, two years older than Gerrard, looks fresher, but then his jog-on role against Chelsea for City last Sunday was his second appearance since the World Cup, amounting to 57 minutes.

Lampard may offer Liverpool a lesson in conservation – Gerrard could be in need of no more than rest before an energetic, and influential, return. Rest is not the end.

There will be no park bench for Gerrard, yet the memory of Moore in Moscow is a harsh reminder of how sudden the professional’s end can be, even under a lilac tree. It just feels too soon to rush towards it where Steven Gerrard is concerned.

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