Steven Gerrard is facing end of love affair with Liverpool
Short contract offer is a clear message
Liverpool have been here before, tying themselves up in knots over a belated new contract for Steven Gerrard, and the events of 2004 ought to have taught them they would have been wise not to leave it until now, a month before other clubs can speak to him, before trying to agree a deal.
It was June 28 of that interminable summer when, as Chelsea's courtship ritual seemed to have worked, Gerrard finally called the then chief executive, Rick Parry, and said: "I'm definitely staying but I need signs that we are strengthening and improving."
Parry replied that "we will be" and within a few weeks Gerrard was witnessing the powers of Xabi Alonso at work at Anfield for the first time.
But that was a 24-year-old Gerrard, with a whole career stretching out before him, and with Champions League football part of Liverpool's annual programme.
Now we are witnessing a Gerrard with only two seasons of football left, at a club as much in transition as they were back then. Last season's title dream was insubstantial - crushed as fast as it materialised.
The Luis Suarez money has been spent. The landscape Gerrard now surveys includes the prospect of an almighty struggle to regain Champions League football at best and a year or so poking around in the Europa League at worst, while a Chelsea squad look ready for several years of domestic supremacy. How attractive can that really be for a player who will turn 35 next May?
He will also feel this is his cross to bear, like it always was. By the time Ryan Giggs turned 35, in November 2008, Manchester United had moved on and re-tooled, as every club must do. Giggs played 15 league games in 2008-09, was a substitute almost as often, and was able to offer his best. Frank Lampard turned 35 in June last year, before a season in which he started 20 league games. This season is only a third gone yet Gerrard has played 12 league games already.
Saturday's game against Stoke was only the second fixture he has not started, the League Cup aside. And he always played the full 90 minutes. That is how much Liverpool still need him.
Brendan Rodgers pointed out yesterday what a highly politicised issue Gerrard's selection can be. "When we have three games in a week I get asked 'is he capable of playing three games?' but the minute he is not played in one game I am asked 'why isn't he playing?'" the manager said.
Neither will Gerrard be hammering on his door, asking to be left out.
Gerrard's over-exposure is not enhancing his reputation and now is the moment Rodgers seems to have decided that he must be used more sparingly. "He's at the stage of his career where it's not so much the number of games he plays, it's about the level of the game - and that's something I'll always work on with him and we'll look at."
Jamie Carragher described another manifestation of Gerrard in his Daily Mail column on Saturday. "Can you imagine the reaction inside Anfield with 30 minutes of a tight game remaining and (Gerrard) getting stripped for action?" he wrote. "With space to exploit and energy to change the game, he could be a lethal weapon…"
But though he quoted the impact Giggs and Paul Scholes made, Gerrard will not find the same sunny uplands that those two found in their twilight years at Old Trafford. The urgency with which Liverpool needed Gerrard when he arrived late on Saturday to help make an impact against Stoke underlined the dependency. The agonies of rebuilding will go on for as long as he is at Anfield.
You would not bet on him trading all that for a life somewhere else. His interviews and autobiography are a love story for Liverpool. But an escape from the Anfield bubble would also remind him, before it is too late, that there is something in football other than joining battle in Liverpool's seemingly endless mission to chase down its glorious past - and always coming up short against that measure. Something to remind him he is the man Jose Mourinho (three times) and Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to buy.
Carragher expects him to sign the contract, yet it was he who, having retired, articulated the value of a life beyond Liverpool. "I was on holiday a few years ago and met some of those great AC Milan players we'd played in the Champions League final - top footballers. You felt that mutual respect there. I don't mean this to sound big-headed but you felt they were looking at you on their level, the same regard I held them. Now and again it's good to get that sense of how people outside the city and even the country see you."
Few could begrudge Gerrard that. He has served Liverpool like none other.