Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard must cool it to leave Anfield on a high

By Sam Wallace

Steven Gerrard will be leading a Liverpool team out at Anfield on Sunday, just not the kind of Liverpool team you can captain while serving a three-match ban for violent conduct from the Football Association.

This will be the all-star side Gerrard has assembled for the commendable task of playing a charity match for the Liverpool FC Foundation, one that has been long in the organising and has already sold out Anfield.

Gerrard and his old friend Jamie Carragher have taken advantage of the international week to assemble two pretty remarkable teams of recent retirees, international refuseniks and those who just don't get a call from their countries any more.

Gerrard's team is a bit surreal, like one he might have played for in a weird but marvellous dream.

There is John Terry in defence, Xabi Alonso alongside Gerrard in midfield and a forward line of Thierry Henry, Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres.

What those three make of playing in front of Kevin Nolan is anyone's guess.

Oh, and John Arne Riise is in the side and he has to mark Craig Bellamy.

There is no chance of Gerrard pulling out because of a bit of personal turbulence and no doubt he will smile and try to enjoy it as best he can.

Yet last Sunday was evidence that if he is not careful his final few weeks at Liverpool could end up being a bit painful.

Brendan Rodgers' explanation for Gerrard's rush of blood on Sunday afternoon is regarded at the club as the fairest take on why the midfielder got himself sent off within 38 seconds of coming on for Adam Lallana against Manchester United.

In short, that Gerrard had spent 45 minutes watching his team being bullied by a strong United performance, especially from Marouane Fellaini, and went about trying to change that too recklessly.

Having ascertained that it would be three games he would miss, Gerrard then asked to be left alone in the dressing room in the aftermath of the red card.

The request to make an apology via Sky Sports was Gerrard's alone and once that was done when he was out of the ground and home.

He would have known on Thursday, when Rodgers announced his team, that he was not starting and there should have been time for him to come to terms with that.

That Gerrard found himself in such a lather by the time he stepped on to the pitch suggests that he is still getting to grips with the candle burning down on his glorious Liverpool career.

If there was one piece of advice for Gerrard it would be that there is no point pushing it.

There's no point stewing on the touchline about Fellaini or whoever else and trying to change the world on his own.

No point trying to adhere to that glib piece of advice that has always struck me as nonsense - the one that dictates you play every game as if it is your last.

In many cases, the last game of a great career turns out to be entirely innocuous, a tired old footballer remembering all the reasons he is quitting or leaving in the first place.

It is what went before it that counts.

The last Liverpool game for Ian Callaghan, the club's record appearance maker, was the first leg of the 1978 European Cup semi-final, a defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach, but he never played in the return leg or the Wembley final against Bruges.

Kenny Dalglish's last Liverpool game was 18 minutes as a substitute at the end of a 1-0 win over Derby County in 1990, although he can have no complaints about the brevity given he was also the manager at the time.

Every great of the game would like to go on their terms.

Liverpool would doubtless love Gerrard to return in three games' time with their place in the FA Cup semi-finals assured and have him win twice at Wembley, the second time in the final that coincides with his 35th birthday.

He may score one last injury-time winner in a moment of classic Gerrardian brio.

He may just go with a whimper, away to Stoke City in Liverpool's final Premier League game, with Glenn Whelan snapping around his heels.

Whether that game turns out to be at Wembley, or Anfield, or even the Britannia, Gerrard should lighten up, avoid the end-of-days vibe and try to play his last game like it is his first.

Play it with the sense of wonder and excitement of a teenager running out for his debut.

That's the way to go.

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