Steven Gerrard to quit Liverpool at the end of the season
'This has been the toughest decision of my life, one both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time'
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has said leaving the club at the end of the season has been the "toughest decision" of his life.
The Liverpool captain will be 35 in May and is at the end of his current contract with the club, and the move today is an attempt to clarify his future and end the growing speculation of a rift with manager Brendan Rodgers.
Liverpool FC confirmed on Friday morning that Gerrard is to leave the club at the end of the 2014-15 season.
It is rumoured he is to leave Liverpool for a new challenge in America - most likely with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The sensational news brings an end to a 26-year association with the Merseyside club.
In a statement he said: "This has been the the toughest decision of my life, one both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time.
"I’m making the announcement now so the manager and team are not distracted by stories or speculation about my future.
"Liverpool Football Club has been such a huge part of all our lives for so long and saying goodbye is going to be difficult, but I feel it's something that's in the best interests of all involved, including my family and the club itself.
"I'm going to carry on playing and although I can't confirm at this stage where that will be, I can say it will be somewhere that means I won't be playing for a competing club and will not therefore be lining up against Liverpool - that is something I could never contemplate.
"My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over.
"I can't thank Brendan, the owners and everyone at the club enough for how they've handled this and I am leaving on great terms. Also, I would like to thank my teammates and all the staff for their help and continued support.
"It is a very special place to be part of. It is my sincere hope and wish that one day I can return to serve Liverpool again, in whatever capacity best helps the club.
"One point that is important to make is that from now until the last kick of the last game of the season, I will be as fully committed to the team as I ever have been and giving everything I have to help Liverpool win games.
"My final message is for the people who make Liverpool Football Club the greatest in the world - the supporters.
"It has been a privilege to represent you, as a player and as captain. I have cherished every second of it and it is my sincere wish to finish this season and my Liverpool career on a high."
Manager Brendan Rodgers said he was 'probably incomparable' to anybody he had ever worked with.
He said: "It is almost an impossible task to find the words to appropriately sum up Steven Gerrard and his importance to Liverpool.
"This is an era where the word 'legend' is vastly overused, but in his case it actually doesn't do him justice.
"From a personal point of view I will always have gratitude for the support he gave me, when I arrived here as manager.
"Steven came to see me and promised he would be 100 per cent behind me and do everything he could to help as we looked to introduce new ideas and a new way of working.
"He wasn't just true to his word, he vastly exceeded it.
"As a player he is immense and the influence he has on games should never be understated. At times he has carried this club on his back and in my time here he has always shown the ability that has rightly seen him be regarded as one of the world's best for well over a decade.
"As a leader and as a man, he is probably incomparable to anyone I have ever worked with.
"He takes professionalism to a new level and the dedication he has to his work is an example to everyone in the game.
Gerrard: "From now until the last kick of the last game of the season, I’ll be as fully committed to the team as I ever have been." #LFCicon— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 2, 2015
"He is also someone who has always put the club and team ahead of himself and I think that will ultimately be his legacy.
"People better placed than me to judge have said Steven is Liverpool's greatest ever player; when you look at the company he is in, that is some statement.
"We of course will miss him, both on the field of play and in his capacity as club captain, but his influence will live on and we wish him nothing but joy and success wherever he chooses to go next.
Brendan Rodgers on Gerrard: "As a leader and as a man, he is probably incomparable to anyone I have ever worked with." #LFCicon— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 2, 2015
"Until that moment arrives I will continue to enjoy working with Steven Gerrard the man and Steven Gerrard the player, one of the greatest we have seen."
Gerrard's Liverpool team-mates paid tribute to their captain after he announced he is to leave the club at the end of the season.
Daniel Sturridge was among 23 current Reds players to pay tribute to the 34-year-old on the club's website on Friday morning.
The striker said: "Stevie will always be a legend - not just for Liverpool but to England as well.
"He will go down in history as one of the best midfielders in the game. He's just unbelievable every day, a great leader and the perfect example for every young player around the country."
Peter Crouch tweeted: "I've been fortunate to have played with some top players in my time but Stevie g is easily the best I have played with/
Gary Lineker said: "Seems Steven Gerrard is set to leave Liverpool at the end of the season. One of the finest players to have graced the PL. A top top player."
Lifelong Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert realised a childhood dream when he moved to Anfield to play alongside the Reds skipper last summer.
Reflecting on Friday's announcement, the Kirkby-born striker said: "Stevie is his own man but he is Mr Liverpool.
"He's number one for me and I think he always will be. He has meant everything to me, growing up as a Liverpool fan.
"The nights he has given Liverpool fans are unbelievable - I'll never forget them and I know the Liverpool fans will never forget them."
Gerrard has often spoken highly of Raheem Sterling and the England forward thanked Gerrard for the role he has played in helping him settle in at Anfield.
"He has been brilliant for me," Sterling said.
"He's always looking after me, always checking to see if I'm all right. He's an inspiration and a great captain."
Gerrard's midfield partner Jordan Henderson spoke highly of the 34-year-old and his "humble" personality.
The Liverpool vice-captain said: "He is a top player but he is also a top person. The lads can go to him with anything and he will always help them out and put them first. That is massive as a captain. With the aura that he has got, he could be a different person but he is very humble."
Mario Balotelli paid tribute to Gerrard, likening him to his Italy team-mate Andrea Pirlo, who is regarded as one of the greatest midfielders in the country's history.
The Italian striker said: "Wow. I think of him as being at the same level as Pirlo. Vision, technique but he is powerful as well.
"Stevie can do anything, he's an amazing player. It's going to be very difficult for the team to find another player like him in the future."
Gerrard's other team-mates were just as forthcoming with their praise for the midfielder, who has won 10 trophies during his time at the club.
Kolo Toure said: "He makes the magic when no-one can make it and that is why he is one of the best players in the world."
Emre Can said Gerrard was "the greatest captain Liverpool have ever had" and Philippe Coutinho described his skipper as "phenomenal".
Academy product Jon Flanagan called Gerrard his "hero" while Joe Allen said the former England skipper "is an iconic figure, an inspiration."
Right-back Glen Johnson, who has been at Liverpool for five-and-a-half years, added: "Steven has been a fantastic player for many years and what he has done for Liverpool Football Club is just huge."
Jose Enrique insists Gerrard has not lost his touch despite 17 years in professional football.
"The quality of his passes, his crosses, and the free-kicks is amazing. At 50 years of age he will still be doing the same thing," he said.
Dietmar Hamman, who was part of the 2005 Champions League winning Liverpool team, feels Gerrard has made the correct decision in leaving Anfield.
"An era comes to the end with SG leaving LFC," the former Reds midfielder wrote on Twitter.
"I think he made the right call. What a career,what a player.Thx for the many wonderful moments."
Another of Gerrard's former team-mates Peter Crouch hailed the midfielder, who retired from international duty last summer.
"I've been fortunate to have played with some top players in my time but Stevie g is easily the best I have played with . #gerrard #LFC," said the Stoke striker, who played alongside Gerrard at Liverpool for three years.
Ex-England striker Gary Lineker rates Gerrard as one of the best players in recent history even though he has never won the Premier League.
"Seems Steven Gerrard is set to leave Liverpool at the end of the season. One of the finest players to have graced the PL. A top, top player," Lineker tweeted.
Toni Duggan, the England women and Manchester City women striker who is a big Liverpool fan, tweeted: "Gutted! A legend is a understatement, the greatest to ever pull on a red shirt.. MLS via city please?"
LA Galaxy, David Beckham's former club, appear to have beaten off MLS rivals New York Red Bulls to make a marquee signing which is bound to lift the status of the league.
Under Fifa regulations Gerrard is able to speak to clubs outside the Premier League to negotiate a new deal for the end of June. It is understood Liverpool's owners are not prepared to match Gerrard's existing £180,000-a-week wage.
The Anfield favourite has only been offered £85,000 a week and it's thought that Gerrard's claims this week that he could play for another club were a move to apply pressure on Liverpool's owners to offer a better deal.
Ulsterman Rodgers said this week that Gerrard had earned the right to talk to other clubs and the former England skipper is ready for a fresh challenge.
The decision over whether to stay has been facing him all season, having come so close to winning his first Premier League title in May.
This season has put strain on his relationship with the club at times, especially when Rodgers left him out of the Champions League side to play Real Madrid in the Bernabeu stadium.
Liverpool offered Gerrard a new deal in November, but the former England skipper has decided the time is right to move on at the end of the campaign and experience something different.
The situation over Gerrard’s future has become awkward and both parties hope this will enable the club to approach the end of the season without it hanging over them.
Gerrard, who scored two penalties in Liverpool’s 2-2 home draw against bottom club Leicester City yesterday, has been the backbone of the club and the Kop will be stunned by the news.
Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher said on Twitter: ‘Sad day for Lfc & English football with the Gerrard news, I think it’s the right decision all things considered.’
Gerrard joined Liverpool as an eight-year-old and made his Liverpool first-team debut on November 29, 1998 in a Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers as a last-minute substitute for Vegard Heggem.
The former England skipper has made 695 appearances during a remarkable career at the club, scoring 180 goals, and lifted 11 trophies.
His greatest moment came when he scored in the Champions League final in 2005 and inspired Liverpool to come from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan and win the trophy on penalties.
But his hopes of winning the Premier League are likely to remain unfulfilled after Liverpool came up agonisingly short last season and lost out to Manchester City.
But his glittering CV includes one Champions League, two FA Cups, three League Cups, one Uefa Cup, one Uefa Super League and one Charity Shield.
And he will remain totally committed to Rodgers in the final five months of the season.
Gerrard has remained loyal to Liverpool, turning down lucrative offers from rivals including Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
The prospect of being a substitute in more matches next season as Rodgers manages his fitness has helped shape Gerrard’s thinking.
Steven Gerrard: Five of the bestgoals
Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has scored a number of crucial goals during the course of his career for the Reds.
The 34-year-old confirmed on Friday that he will leave Liverpool at the end of the current season after spending his entire career to date at the Anfield club.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at five of his best and most significant goals for the Merseyside outfit.
LIVERPOOL v WEST HAM, FA CUP FINAL, MAY 2006
Gerrard's first goal in the final, to equalise at 2-2, is largely forgotten because of what came after. Trailing 3-2 in the 90th minute the ball dropped to the midfielder, stricken by cramp, 30 yards from goal and he lashed in a shot which arrowed into the bottom corner of the net.
LIVERPOOL v OLYMPIACOS, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, DECEMBER 2004
The significance of this goal was only felt six months later when Liverpool went on to win the Champions League. Needing to beat the Greeks by two clear goals to get out of the group stage and the score at 2-1 with just four minutes remaining, Gerrard produced a trademark strike from distance to set the Reds on their way to a fifth European Cup.
LIVERPOOL v AC MILAN, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL, MAY 2005
Not the best nor most spectacular goal of his career but arguably one of the most important. Trailing 3-0 at half-time Gerrard's twisting header nine minutes into the second half sparked one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
LIVERPOOL v MANCHESTER UNITED, PREMIER LEAGUE, MARCH 2001
As he has done many times since, Gerrard collected a knockdown in midfield, advanced a few yards before firing a screamer past Fabian Barthez as Liverpool completed their first league double over United for 22 years.
LIVERPOOL v MIDDLESBROUGH, APRIL 2005
Technically one of Gerrard's best goals. Collecting the ball 40 yards out he controlled it on his instep, allowed it to bounce twice and hammered an arcing, bending angled shot into the top corner with the outside of his right foot.
Additional reporting PA