There is much to admire about Steven Gerrard. One of the best English players of his generation, a midfielder who had an all round set of technical attributes to match any player in the world. A wonderful passer, finisher, a great shot from distance, a tackler, hard worker and leader. Gerrard has scored some truly iconic goals, from the piledriver against Germany during World Cup qualifying in 2001, to the last minute equaliser in the 2006 FA Cup final, saving Liverpool from defeat to a hugely impressive West Ham side.
And of course there was that 2005 Champions League final, when Gerrard scored the first goal of the remarkable fightback against AC Milan that constituted one of football’s greatest, if not the greatest ever, comeback.
There is one big problem that has followed Gerrard throughout his career though, and that is an infuriating tactical indiscipline. It was for the Liverpool man that the term ‘hollywood ball’ was coined, denoting as it does a hugely ambitious long range pass that would look fantastic if it came off, when there was someone better placed 10 yards away from the Liverpool man if he decided to take the simple option.
Gerrard’s tactical indiscipline seems to stem from his ‘Roy of the Rovers’ playing style. Perhaps he is a victim in this sense of his supreme ability, as so good was he at his best that he could drive forward from midfield with purpose and skill. Yet after beating one man, Gerrard so often tried to then take on a second, often pushing the ball several yards ahead of him and chasing after it. More often than not he would lose the ball, although when it came off he looked brilliant. But again, there were often better choices available. Gerrard has often been unable to see the bigger picture developing around him.
There have been signs in Arsenal’s last two games, as his team have stuttered, that Jack Wilshere is developing into a truly world class talent. Yet there have also been some of the elements of Gerrard’s game of old. The decision to push the ball ahead of himself and take on an extra man rather than play a simple pass to a well placed team mate, or an attempt at an overly ambitious pass when a simple one would suffice. You cannot fault a man for trying, but the simplest solution is often the best. Fast attacking football of the sort Arsenal look to play is achieved through a rapid interchange of movement and passing. It requires players moving in all directions, one or two touch football and constantly looking to pass the ball to the man in space. And when the man in space receives the ball, other players need to either come to him to offer an option to pass, or to run wide of a defensive player, in order to drag that defender away from the zone in which the ball is, thus stretching the game, creating more space and more opportunity to make a goalscoring opportunity.
Individualism ruins such cleverly designed tactical schemes. There is always a danger of brilliant players believing too much in their own abilities. A team is always compromised when there is an individual who wants too much to show what he can do, rather than contributing to showing what his team can do as a collective. Wilshere must be wary of the traps that great players can fall into. They can be the difference between top, top players, and the truly world class.