An extraordinary thing happened this week. And it came from an extraordinary source. If you were looking for a man to lose Andy Linighan at a last-minute cup final corner, then Mark Bright would be as close as anyone to the top of your list.
But if, on the other hand, you were keen on someone to sacrifice one of English football’s sacred cows with a bout of concise yet erudite football punditry, then you’d have thumbed the rolodex pretty thoroughly before settling, resignedly, on Brighty’s number.
And yet, there was Brighty on MOTD2 on Sunday evening, cutting to the chase in the wake of Liverpool’s putrid showing at Upton Park. Unlike his target, keeping it simple. “Gerrard in midfield gave the ball away all afternoon.”
He might as well have told us Kate Middleton had mooned the Queen and run off with Russell Brand. Or Russell Grant. One of the Russells, at least, would have seen that coming.
For while Paddy, as our new Chieftain told us this week, likes to know what the story is, George, if we can call him George, likes to write the story to suit himself.
In fairness to Stevie, much of his story has needed no ghostwriter embellishment; heroics in Istanbul, the Millennium Stadium and beyond have seen to that. But George has written long and lovingly of Stevie the midfield general, Stevie the playmaker, Stevie the heartbeat, Stevie who pulls the strings. And George can solve every fresh problem Liverpool have faced, and England for that matter, by simply playing Stevie “in his best position.”
Of course the man who shouted longest and loudest was that honourary George, Andy Gray, and it might be no co-incidence that Brighty’s solo run came when Andy isn’t really telling everyone what to think any more.
Yet a series of club and country managers have had reservations about Gerrard’s suitability for the central role he craves for himself. Now, what Kenny Dalglish has planned for Stevie could well define how successful his second coming can become.
What the Telegraph described as Gerrard’s “wayward radar” at West Ham was, in truth, a pretty typical recent performance. Last Sunday, Stevie attempted 74 passes, misplacing more than a third of them. In his previous outing against Chelsea, he played well, but still hit 17 off-target passes out of 54. In the horror show at Blackburn that finished Roy Hodgson, he was wild with 23 out of 69. In the early season defeat to Man City, 24 passes went awry. Xavi he aint.
Of course many of Stevie’s misdirected missiles are of the Hail Mary variety, as if he’s always keen to prove Frankie wasn’t the only Scouser to go Hollywood.
But for all Gerrard’s many other attributes, can Dalglish rely on a two-thirds pass completion rate from a central figure if he wants to achieve what no Liverpool side has consistently managed for a decade or more; to dominate possession against other top sides?
It’s clear that Kenny has a lot of regard for Gerrard. In his recent book My Liverpool Home, he expressed the hope that “Stevie plays for as long as possible at Anfield.” He also insists that “with that commitment and eye for goal, Stevie would have been welcome in any of the teams under Joe (Fagan), Bob (Paisley) or me.” Dalglish also endorses Mark Lawrenson’s description of Gerrard as “Souness with pace”; seemingly the highest praise on offer in Melwood.
But when Dalglish talks about Souness, he talks about unselfish workrate, tackling, winning it, moving it, keeping it simple. He says “Liverpool’s pass and move style suited Souey, whose touch and toughness fitted us perfectly.”
Souness would probably fit any side perfectly and he’d certainly stiffen Kenny’s current eleven. And If Dalglish wants to combine his expensive new strike force in a classic little and large front two, there will be no middle three for Stevie to float in.
Perhaps shorn of some of the pace that could make him a viable option out wide, could Stevie knuckle down to the discipline and sensible passing required of a proper central midfielder? To play like Souness did? Does he have it in him in the first place?
And if he doesn’t, will George ever come round to Brighty’s way of thinking?