Who wouldn’t want to be Steven Gerrard? One of the greatest, most respected footballers of his generation, captain of club and country, with a Champions League medal capping a glittering career. Inspirational, with a right foot that can pass the ball 40 yards (as the chant goes) with pinpoint accuracy, steer it over the wall and in from just outside the box or score with a ferocious volley. The hero of the 2005 Champions League final, when he picked Liverpool up from a 3-0 half-time deficit and dragged them over the line to victory.

There is, though, one gaping hole in that CV that almost begs the counter-question: Who’d want to be Steven Gerrard? Who would want to be the player who won everything but never the football league, the true test of any football club’s depth and strength? More specifically, who would want to be the player whose entire career was spent at one club—which, coincidentally, was going through a period of decline after great successes in the 1970s and 1980s—and who spurned the chance to move to richer pastures?

Approximately five months down the line, Steven Gerrard will call time on his Liverpool career and move over to LA Galaxy. Barring a miracle—or perhaps something bigger than that—his English career will end without a league medal. The closest he, and Liverpool, came to winning the Premier League was in 2013-14, when they lost it by two points and one slip. That slip was by Gerrard, a rare mistake that resulted in a defeat to Chelsea late in the season and allowed Manchester City to sneak past them and claim the title. The irony was immense: Gerrard, the man who had so often sparked Liverpool’s revival in the course of a match, had with that one error doused the flames of their most credible title challenge. It was so surreal that it felt like some sort of divine intervention.

There is, however, an even larger irony at play here: Gerrard, the archetypal one-club man, Liverpool red running in his veins, could have won the league had he left the club. He came close to it in 2005, flirting outrageously and publicly with Chelsea weeks after winning the Champions League before pulling back as the cold mist of reason and logic descended. Chelsea have won two league titles in the years since and it’s fair to say Gerrard’s presence wouldn’t exactly have harmed that record. Chelsea’s manager then, as now, was José Mourinho and he coveted Gerrard at the time; he now says he appreciates the rejection. “I understand why he was—almost, almost, almost—coming to Chelsea. But he didn’t and I respect that a lot."

It all boils down to loyalty. Gerrard will leave Anfield, the Liverpool ground, with the adoration of hundreds of thousands of Liverpool fans for his unswerving loyalty to an often lost cause. He could have won it elsewhere, he could have traded in his loyalty points at Anfield for silverware anywhere on the continent, but the ties were too strong. He isn’t, of course, the only one-club man in the modern era; Barcelona’s Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, and AC Milan’s Paolo Maldini, all served one club, winning countless trophies in the bargain. Even Francesco Totti won a Serie A title with Roma. The point is that they all were with winning clubs and had good material reason to stay; Gerrard had nothing but his emotional links to the club of his boyhood, the club his cousin had died supporting in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

And now, his flame flickering, his energies waning, Gerrard has pulled the plug. It couldn’t have been easy; hope springs eternal and the narrow miss of last season would have fuelled hope of a revival of sorts at Liverpool. This season, though, has failed (so far) to match the heights of the last; perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the club’s decision to sell their prolific goalscorer Luis Suárez; an act that immediately and significantly reduced the team’s potency. Gerrard himself has been found wanting, his inspirational performances fewer and far between, though there is every chance of a few special turns before he leaves.

He will then ply his trade in the gentler climate of Los Angeles, where his tasks will include replacing the giant star-shaped hole left by Galaxy’s recently retired legend Landon Donovan. It will probably offer him his best chance of finally winning the league—Galaxy have won it three times in the past four years. But there will be another twist of irony: The formal name of the league title is the MLS Cup.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo.

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