Gerrard's tale of the unexpected brings old Anfield nightmare to life

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The Independent Football

Behind the bedroom windows that still carried posters of the Liverpool captain hoisting the European Cup aloft, to the leafy suburb of Blundellsands, where Gerrard sat at home wrestling with the biggest dilemma of his life, breakdowns were not merely associated with contract talks.

A nightmare Liverpool fans believed had been left in Istanbul had stirred again, and this time there is no unexpected reprieve.

Instead of a hastily arranged press conference in the Anfield trophy room to announce that Gerrard had turned his back on a £110,000-a-week offer from Chelsea, as was the case a little over a year ago, now there is only confirmation the midfielder is prepared to bring his 17-year association with the club to an end.

It is a shattering blow to Liverpool Football Club and to the city itself - which, red or blue, is in danger of losing all its home-grown, world-class talent in a year.

Gerrard, unlike Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney before him, is the Academy graduate who has the medals to accompany adoration. He is the figurehead of Liverpool, the foundation around which the manager, Rafael Benitez, insisted he wanted to build a title-winning team.

His impending departure tears the heart out of those plans but it will not, despite the magnitude of his decision and the esteem in which he was held in his home city, rip the heart out of Liverpool. The Champions' League triumph over Milan should have ended any doubt over the 25-year-old's future, even in Gerrard's eyes. But, in reality, Liverpool and their dynamic midfielder have been heading towards this juncture ever since he wavered over Chelsea's initial approach during Euro 2004.

There were shock, hurt and anger around Anfield last summer at the suggestion that he could entertain the idea of a move away, especially to Stamford Bridge. There are hurt and anger again, especially as he rejected the highest contract offer in the club's history when it finally came on Monday night, but the element of shock has lessened.

In the season preceding Euro 2004, Gerrard could do no wrong as his inspirational form dragged Liverpool into the Champions' League competition they would win in such astonishing fashion in May.

Last season, however, many supporters grew tired of the speculation surrounding their leader and of how every defeat was measured in terms of what it meant for Gerrard rather than Liverpool. In the meantime, Jamie Carragher came to embody the club's heart and soul through his unbending faith in the cause.

Benitez shared those frustrations. The affable, reserved former Valencia manager would roll his eyes once the first question in yet another Gerrard-dominated press conference was thrown his way towards the end of last season.

He began the campaign refusing to answer questions on an individual, even if the idea was to laud a match-winning display, lest his words disrupt another lesson in the team ethic that is at the core of his football philosophy. By the end of a campaign that defied all expectations in Europe and never came close to them domestically, even Benitez resigned himself to never getting away from the issue. The eyes would roll once more, but he would reluctantly answer. With every major European game becoming a litmus test of Liverpool's prospects of keeping their captain instead of their chances of lifting the trophy, the sense of resignation intensified. Even Gerrard's admirers were uncomfortable with how he dominated the agenda.

Yet, still, it should not have come to this. Here was a local idol who was given everything by his boyhood club, a debut at 18, the captain's armband at 23 and the prize he wanted most of all, a picture of himself as Liverpool captain with the European Cup framed on his snooker-room wall.

All parties insist his decision to go is not about money - Gerrard's initial wage demands support this. His asking price was at least £10,000 a week less than he would have received from Chelsea last summer while Liverpool ultimately offered the most lucrative contract in their history. Fatefully, it came six days later than the player expected.

There has been a complete breakdown in relations between the captain and the Anfield hierarchy. It is not, as the chief executive, Rick Parry, and the club's supporters had hoped all along, repairable.

Gerrard's U-turn is a devastating blow to Liverpool morale and prestige. Armed with a minimum of £32m, however, they will move on.

Money men: Five players Liverpool could buy with Chelsea's millions

Peter Crouch

SOUTHAMPTON

A surprise choice from Rafael Benitez, and not a name to placate a furious Kop. However, a £6m deal for the gangly England international striker is gathering pace.

Gabriel Milito

REAL ZARAGOZA

Benitez tracked the centre-back last season but was put off by the £7m price. He would have no problem landing the tough and, crucially, pacey Argentinian.

Pablo Aimar

VALENCIA

A row over Benitez's exit from Valencia foiled his plans to raid the club for players last season, but the midfielder would fit perfectly into his plans for Liverpool.

Rubens Baraja

VALENCIA

Another of the Valencia stable Benitez would love to work withagain. And with a gaping hole appearing in central midfield, Baraja would be paired with Xabi Alonso.

Dirk Kuyt

FEYENOORD

Another target made affordable by Gerrard's transfer request. The £10m-rated striker has a prolific scoring record, but there may not be room for him and Crouch.

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