Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Steven Gerrard's move may be painful for Liverpool fans but it might not be such a bad move at all

This appears in the Monday, January 5, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.

Not such a bad move at all
by rick olivares

After the news broke that Steven Gerrard was not re-signing with Liverpool and headed for Major League Soccer in the United States, there were the usual snide remarks towards the American professional league about being a lower tier league as opposed to its European cousins.

America is derisively seen as where fading European football stars go to cash in their chips for one massive payday in the twilight of their careers. And I disagree. Even if MLS teams have what they call the Designated Player position where every club has three slots to sign high-priced free agents above and beyond its salary cap, the league has worked hard to develop the quality of its game and players.

If it’s that massive payday, then they must look at Qatar (although footballers Zahir Belounis and Abdeslam Ouaddou will strongly make the case that the Gulf State is actually a State Prison) that simply flaunts its money and tries to buy players with no real care for grassroots development (unless they call naturalization grassroots development).

The MLS has made massive inroads since its inception in 1993. They now have 20 teams and the game is so much more alive and well since the old North American Soccer League. Save for Chivas USA, the other clubs have done well. I find it unique and a marvel that the United States now has five major professional sports leagues in Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and now the MLS. Find me another country that boasts that many vibrant leagues all competing at the same time? Football or soccer as they call it is alive and well in the United States.

In terms of attendance, MLS drew the eighth best crowds in world football with an average of 19,000-plus paying patrons than leagues of more developed footballing nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Japan and Portugal to name a few. While that may be small compared to its co-North American sports and say, the Premier League, it’s not bad at all. And it gets better all the time for the MLS.

Since the 1994 World Cup, the US has qualified for football’s premier event every staging. The only other countries to accomplish that feat include Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, and Spain. In that span, the Americans only failed to get out of the first round twice. In contrast, Argentina got stuck in the stage once, Italy never got out of the group stage on two occasions (actually the last two World Cups), the Spanish got mired there twice, and the Koreans sent packing four times. The Americans’ accomplishment isn’t so bad despite a 5-6-12 tournament record since 1994. The red, white, and blue has scored 23 goals and conceded 33 in that span. You can actually say that the US is improving.

Gerrard is moving from one storied club to another in the Los Angeles Galaxy except the latter is currently the cream of American soccer at the moment having won titles three times in the last four campaigns (for five MLS Cup titles overall among its smattering of trophies from other tournaments).

He joins a team that includes his former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane and one that was vacated by former England teammate David Beckham and the recently retired Landon Donovan.

I wasn’t really that surprised about Gerrard’s refusal to sign a contract extension with Liverpool. If his boyhood club had won the Premier League last season then it would have been easy to sign an extension even if his playing time had diminished.

While I understand Brendan Rodgers’ decision to rest him for bigger games, I disagree that his on-field value has diminished because there is no other player on the club still capable of finding teammates with exquisite and perfect passes from his deep-playing position.

To be selfish about it, I would have loved for him to finish his career at Liverpool. Rare is the modern player to stay with one club for their entire career especially one who is home grown and bred in the Merseyside. But the disappointing second place finish last season, this year’s troubles to recover its frightening form, and no relief in sight for the next season prompted him to make the difficult decision to leave.

There’s precedent for this. In his autobiography, Gerrard, published in 2006 by Bantam Press in Great Britain, the long-time LFC captain admitted: “In climbing to the peak of my club career in 2004/05,I endured moments of doubt. Liverpool may have won the Champions League but the Premiership belonged to Chelsea. I didn’t want to lie or claim everything was sweetness and light at Liverpool. I wanted to wait and see how the season panned out. Ideally, Liverpool would finish first or second and I could announce, ‘I don’t have to move.’ Sadly, we were fighting it our for fourth or fifth. The fear of the UEFA Cup loomed large.”

Now you can add diminishing starts or matches for the club’s talismanic captain who also recently hung up his international boots.

Gerrard stayed and now after 16 years with the Reds’ first team (not counting his years at the youth academy), 695 matches and 180 goals (as of this writing), and 11 trophies (but no Premier League trophy), the long-time Liverpool captain is leaving his hometown team. I admire his refusal to play for another English club and line up against Liverpool. It must have been a painful decision.

However, like many of his countrymen from centuries ago, they looked northward to the United States for a new life. And maybe for Gerrard, 18-month contract or not, this could be a rebirth of sorts. He’ll find the sunny California weather a better climate than the balmy English weather. He may not be “tabloid fare” like his former England teammate Beckham, but he is enough of an international icon to attract attention. He joins a very good football team and should find no trouble fitting in. It will still be tough not seeing him in Liverpool red but we should wish him well. After all, he deserves it.

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