This week Barcelona announced the signing of Denis Suarez from Manchester City, picking up the hugely talented youngster for €1 million plus incentives and offering a clear path in his career that wasn’t on offer at the Etihad Stadium. Suarez will go into the Barcelona B team for this season, where the plan is to prepare him for life as either Xavi or Andres Iniesta’s long-term replacement, possibly the latter.
And it hasn’t just been Suarez. It’s been reported that Barcelona have a first option on a number of Atletico Madrid players as part of the David Villa transfer. Among the names said to be on the list are Oliver Torres and Saul, another immensely talented midfield duo. It’s clear planning for the future, and sensible planning too, something that isn’t an overriding theme of Sandro Rosell’s tenure as president.
So where do Liverpool stand on their need to replace a veteran and iconic presence in the midfield? Steven Gerrard is 33 and is most certainly counting down the days towards life after football. But isn’t there an argument to say Liverpool’s game isn’t as dependent on Gerrard as Barcelona’s is on Xavi?
The focus at Anfield has been on the newly acquired talents, with Coutinho heading the new wave. The style of football is set to take a shift from what we’ve been accustomed to in previous years, while even Jordan Henderson, a part of that reckless summer of 2011, is looking to shake that stigma.
Gerrard is the face of this Liverpool side and clearly has an important role to play. Without him in the squad you’d have to wonder how successful Brendan Rodgers’ tenure could be, or any manager for that matter. Gerrard is the go-between, the bridge between the manager and the dressing room, the most respected figure at the club and one who anyone would both want and need to have onside.
But such is the shaping of the building project at Liverpool that Gerrard could eventually be more of a symbolic figure rather than one who acts as the catalyst for a successful unit. The importance, however, and much like Barcelona are doing, is for Liverpool to establish who Gerrard will pass the torch to, identifying the midfielder who will define the next generation at the club.
Of course, that player could already be in the squad in Coutinho. Moreover, Rodgers may once again opt to look to Spain – a market which the club have clearly identified as key in their building – and pick up one of the promising midfielders to build a team around. Yet such is the success of the Brazilian thus far at Anfield, and of course Gerrard’s ability to stubbornly stare in the face of his advancing years, that Rodgers isn’t under an enormous amount of pressure to replace the club captain with a like-for-like.
The difference between Barcelona and Liverpool is that the La Liga champions have a style of play that is set in stone, one that runs right through the club and covers all age groups. It revolves around the need for players in the mould of Xavi and even Cesc Fabregas, which is why there was such confusion as to Barcelona’s willingness to place such a low buyout clause in Thiago Alcantara’s contract.
Liverpool, however, have the freedom to work with what they have and adapt their style accordingly. Yes, for now Gerrard is an important figure both on and off the pitch. But how long will it be before the responsibility is shifted elsewhere, and not necessarily to the club’s downfall?
There are plenty of positives to take from Liverpool’s summer of build, and obviously future success will allow for greater spend in strengthening the squad. However, such is the potential for success in the new wave of players at the club – and let’s not forget Luis Alberto – that this team can learn how to win without Gerrard as the torchbearer.
Will Liverpool suffer once Gerrard decides to retire?
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