Who is better; Gerrard, Scholes or Lampard? We’ve all heard, and probably taken part in this debate numerous times down the years. Almost like it’s the deep, thought provoking philosophical question that requires serious soul searching to answer. “The best midfielder of his generation” is a quote that has been used to describe all three individuals – which in itself is daft; how can all three be the best of their generation?
It’s actually incredibly hard to compare and contrast the three of them. Yeah, they’re all English, and they all play midfield – but that’s kind of where you bring a halt to the comparisons. Midfield is a broad term and there are many different ways to go about plying your trade. Saying they play midfield is akin to saying someone else plays music. There are lots of different genres and styles out there. Trying to convince someone who is the better of the three is like trying to convince someone that Jazz is better than Classical, or Rock is better Country. It’s too subjective, and there is no definitive right answer. It’s also pointless to debate it because Scholes is clearly the better player. I kid, I kid. He is though.
I want to focus primarily on Steven Gerrard here, as the reason the discussion is back on the table lately is because Gerrard is in the middle of a somewhat public transfer negotiation with Liverpool. Both seem to be using the media to put pressure on the other party, and Gerrard has even hinted at the possibility of seeking pastures new next season. It would be a horrible shame to see Gerrard play for someone other than Liverpool. He has had the opportunity to move in the past, moves which would have probably resulted in more silverware for him, but he always stayed loyal and stuck with Liverpool through thick and thin. So for him to leave now, and tarnish that “one club man” aura, would be a sour note in my book.
The contract talk has made me think about Gerrard over the last little while, and where he stands in this little trio of himself, Scholes and Lampard. I think its fair to say that Gerrard has more obvious strengths than the other two. He is a bigger personality on the pitch; a real old school blood and thunder, quintessential British footballer – who is all action, and a leader by example. His style is more “headline grabbing” than the other two. Gerrard in his pomp would be the kind of player who would just impose his will onto other teams and was a real dominant force in midfield. Lampard, for all his qualities, isn’t a dominating kind, and Scholes – while he would control a game, and therefore dominate – would do so in much more reserved and subtle way.
Gerrard plays football like it’s a Call of Duty Deathmatch. It’s a balls to the wall, high intensity adrenaline rush. It’s beating your opponents with a barrage of bullets and explosions. Lampard is more Splinter Cell. Stealthier, more patient and there is a little more craft and guile. While Scholes would be Command and Conquer. He sits back and pulls the strings, controls the game from a far and oversees everything.
This might sound like an odd description, but bare with me; Regardless of where the ball is on the pitch, or who may have possession, you can always see Gerrard. Its like he is bigger, physically, than everyone else in the game. He stomps around the pitch, with his broadened shoulders and chest out, commanding and owning “his” territory. A bulldog in his yard. Lampard on the other hand, you never see. Not that he shy’s away, but he sort of just sneaks around the pitch, using his cunning and intuition to find little gaps here and there. A knack for staying unmarked in little pockets of space that he will use to punish the opposition. He is a cat in someone else’s yard. Then there is Scholes, he is the fox hanging on the periphery of your garden perimeter, and just being more cunning and more ginger than the other two.
When you lump everything into one big pot and stir it all up – stuff like shooting, tackling, passing, set piece delivery, energy levels, leadership qualities, etc, Gerrard is probably the most rounded off the three lads. But, like I said earlier about his obvious strengths, I think he has the most obvious weaknesses of the trio as well.
Gerrard is 34, and can no longer do the all action hero style of play he became so famous for. Over the last couple of years, Brendan Rodgers has tried to start playing Gerrard deeper in midfield, in a more holding role. Scholes was able to do this masterfully, and played (and won titles) until he was 38. As things stand right now, it’s very hard to see Gerrard still playing at 38. He doesn’t seem to be adapting to playing that holding role, a role that requires a little more discipline and more positional awareness. Often, the key for players extending their playing careers is the ability to adapt to different roles on the pitch, as the likes of Scholes and Giggs have done. Lampard (36) took on a reduced role in his last couple of seasons at Chelsea, and is primarily used as an impact sub at Man City.
Another thing players need to adapt to as they age, is the fact that they are actually ageing. Sounds obvious right? However, Gerrard is still playing practically every week – sometimes twice a week. Scholes and Lampard needed to take on reduced roles; it helps keep the mind focused and the body fresh. Sadly, Gerrard doesn’t look fresh or focused this season. He looks drained. Too many teams are bypassing him in midfield, he struggles to keep up with the pace, and he is starting to make a few misplaced passes. The kind he would have never done before.
That raises the question; Is Gerrard undroppable? Scholes and Lampard were fortunate enough that they spent the majority of their careers surrounded by excellent players. They were part of a team. In a lot of cases, Gerrard was the team for Liverpool. His heroic exploits have morphed him into some mythological being, so much so that the fans and media react differently to him. For example, when Lampard or Scholes were on the bench, they were just being rested; but if Gerrard is on the bench, then he has been dropped. Stevie G has engraved himself as “Mr Liverpool” in a way that the other two didn’t with their respective clubs.
The best tactician that Gerrard has worked under, and had his most successful spell with, was Rafa Benitez. This is where it gets a little weird, because Rafa never seemed to really trust Gerrard in midfield. In 05/06 Gerrard scored 23 goals (his best in a single season) and won the PFA Player of the Year. All primarily playing from the right hand side, with a license to drift and roam wherever he wanted – because Benitez preferred the midfield pairing of Alonso and Sissoko – Rafa gave Gerrard a license to go wherever he wanted because, well, Steven Gerrard will go wherever he wants anyway. So you might as well just let him get on with it. Embrace it, don’t fight it.
Then, in 08/09 Gerrard had arguably his best season, playing more advanced and just off the striker (Fernando Torres) while a combination of Mascherano, Alonso and Lucas held the fort and did what midfielders do. This is funny, because for a guy who is regularly touted as being “the best midfielder of his generation”, it’s odd that his best days came when he wasn’t in midfield. Which, for me, is one of the main reasons I think it’s impossible to compare. Gerrard isn’t even a conventional midfielder.
I’m going to stop there, because I don’t want to be too down on Gerrard; he is great and should be appreciated more. He is almost one of a kind. Genuinely. He is really hard to categorize. Scholes, for example, fits in with a certain style of player – Xavi, Pirlo, Alonso etc. Gerrard, well he kind of doesn’t fit into a group with other players, because there isn’t really another player like him – and I don’t know if that’s a positive or not.
I think overall, its time people drew a line under this debate. Midfielders come in all shapes and sizes, all of whom go about their business in different ways that just cant be compared. How do you compare a Modric to a Yaya Toure, a Pirlo to a Matic, or an Iniesta to a Schweinsteiger You don’t. You just sit back and admire them for their different styles and tendencies. You never hear a debate over other midfielders the way you do Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes.
There is more than one way to skin a cat, and in football a defense is often likened to a door that needs to be unlocked. They were, and still are, all extremely capable of doing that job for their teams. Sure, Lampard might be an instinctive cat burglar who cases the joint and works out how to time his run to nip in the back door when left open, and Scholes will be patient, taking his time with his lock pick, while Gerrard just shows up with a sledgehammer and smashes it into a million little pieces. All very different, all very effective.
by Andrew Furlong