Liverpool face Blackburn Rovers in their FA Cup quarter-final replay tonight. The game has been billed as the match that could define the club’s season, with defeat potentially fatal for under-fire manager Brendan Rodgers according to the Daily Star.
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However, the game brings with it an added importance for the Reds beyond the Merseyside outfit keeping their season alive.
That decisive factor surrounds a man who won’t even be playing tonight – club captain Steven Gerrard.
The 34-year-old is serving the second game of his three-match suspension, which came about after his red card against Manchester United last month. Tonight, he’ll watch from the stands, knowing that defeat would ensure that his final season with the club that he has served with distinction will end in disappointment.
But for all those questioning the great man’s legacy at Anfield, you’d do well to bear in mind what he’d done over his career. He may have endured a couple of unsavoury moments over the last few months – the Chelsea slip, the World Cup humiliation and now the red card – but those things should not take away from the wonderful decades that preceded them.
Gerrard would no doubt dearly love to go out on a high, lifting the FA Cup above his head at Wembley, before sailing off into the Los Angeles sunset to earn an enjoyable retirement bonus across the pond.
If he does it, then Liverpool fans will be able to enjoy one final great memory of arguably their greatest ever player. If he doesn’t, then they’ll have to make do with the many, many others they already have.
Gerrard, who first joined the Reds in 1987 at just seven years of age, has won the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the League Cup and the Community Shield. He’s a three time Premier League runner-up, and he’s near single-handedly inspired FA Cup and Champions League wins.
The veteran midfielder has earned over 100 caps for his country, been a Ballon d’Or finalist, the FWA and PFA player of the year, he’s a three time member of the FIFA World XI, won third place on BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award and been given an MBE.
To claim that all of those accomplishments could be wiped out with a defeat to Blackburn, Aston Villa, Arsenal or Reading, or indeed by the most unfortunate of slips against Chelsea, is an insult to one of Liverpool’s greatest ever servants – the player that twice turned down moves to Stamford Bridge and always remained loyal to his boyhood club during one of their most difficult eras.
Poetic justice does not entitle Steven Gerrard to a final shot at silverware, but it would be cruel to suggest that he does not deserve it.