Why did Gerrard change his mind?

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The Independent Football

Earlier, shocked by the reaction on the streets of Merseyside to his verbal transfer request, the 25-year-old had disconnected his television and mobile phone in a fruitless attempt to find serenity amid the maelstrom.

The proud England midfielder, the leader who dragged Liverpool back from the abyss in the Champions' League final against Milan, always thought he knew his own mind. But only in those tense few hours shut away from the outside world in his mansion in the leafy suburbs of north Liverpool did he finally realise what he has with his home town club.

The Kop laud Gerrard's hard-man image, not the sensitive, thoughtful character that lies beneath it. When he saw his No 8 shirt burning outside Liverpool's Melwood training complex on Tuesday, and an out-pouring of anger that only Wayne Rooney had prompted on Merseyside before, Gerrard's reluctance even to consider a new deal at Anfield wavered.

Ultimately, when the moment of separation arrived, he concluded the reverence he receives from his boyhood club meant more than winning a title with Chelsea or Real Madrid ever could. "I have gone with my heart," he said yesterday. "I love the club and I love the supporters and that is what it boiled down to." That was the explanation he provided for pulling back from the brink last June. He stepped closer to the precipice this time, going so far as to admit to wanting out, but the decision and the reasons behind it remain as true now as when Roman Abramovich first turned his head during Euro 2004.

Liverpool's figurehead is single-minded in his ambition, a trait that forced him to look elsewhere in search of the league championship medal he craves. But he is also a complex, studious soul, whose pride was inevitably damaged by Liverpool's initial reluctance to offer him a new four-year contract when negotiations finally opened last Wednesday. Loyalty carries a great weight with the working-class lad from the tough Bluebell estate in Huyton, who still leaves two tickets at the Anfield box office for his former primary school teacher whenever Newcastle (his teacher's favourite team) visit Liverpool.

He is as intense about every aspect of his professional career as his stern expression on the pitch suggests, though is nowhere near as dark and sullen as he appears off it. He could easily have immersed himself in the trappings of his position and was heading that way until Gérard Houllier delivered a few home truths in 2001. "He doesn't need nightclubs now," said the former Liverpool manager, "He can own them when his career is over." Two years later, at the age of 23, he was Liverpool captain.

Gerrard dedicated himself to Liverpool and to his family, and it was to them he turned for guidance when the crisis enveloped him on Tuesday. It was a day-long confessional with his father last summer, said to have moved both men to tears, that persuaded him to reject Chelsea's first advance more than the death threats he received for daring to consider leaving.

The Gerrard family network spreads far across Merseyside, but its most famous name comes from a tight-knit unit and the advice of his parents and brother, to whom he is especially close, plus his partner Alex, the mother of their young daughter Lily-Ella, was central to his thinking.

Money was never the issue as the Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry, to his credit, admitted when he could easily have cast the player as the villain in a bemusing stand-off.

A drained Gerrard then advised his agent Struan Marshall, another confidant in the trusted inner circle, to sound out Parry about a possible way back. There was never any doubt about the answer. With a new four-year deal worth £100,000 a week he hopes to bury this incredible saga and move on. That could prove more complicated than his decision to stay at home.

At best, both Gerrard and Liverpool have emerged as indecisive, and the repercussions could be even worse for both sides. Despite another pledge of allegiance many Liverpool supporters, though relieved at this most dramatic of U-turns, will continue to doubt the player's loyalty and throw it back in his face after every poor result.

Liverpool, even with the European Cup on display, will have another season measured alongside one player's relentless ambition while the club's manager Rafael Benitez tries to mould a team to end a 16-year wait for the title.

It is a development about which the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson will have also concerns. Gerrard, though played out of position by the Swede during Euro 2004, was diminished for England in Portugal by the torment over his future. With the World Cup only a year away Eriksson must be saying a silent prayer that when Gerrard says he will never consent to the leaving of Liverpool, he genuinely means it.

The 25-year-old has long held Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira as role models and, in the case of his Highbury counterpart at least, he has replicated his role as the one-man serial summer soap opera. Vieira's regular dalliances with Real Madrid have taken their toll on the Arsenal captain's effectiveness for two seasons and, until he made a conscious effort to ignore his own doubts at the end of the last campaign, Gerrard also struggled to reach previous heights with Liverpool.

For the sake of his own career and the team he ultimately led to the greatest club prize of all, he cannot afford to waver again.

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