Typical of Steven Gerrard to embrace the demand, to roll up his sleeves and rally those around him. This, he said in his pre-match address, was the kind of night that defines a team, and for some a career.
For all but the last 10 minutes that appeared nothing more than a fairy story, Basel turning superiority into a goal after 25 minutes. It was Gerrard who marched back to the centre circle, urging his team-mates to respond, and when fate demanded one last hurrah it was the captain who answered the call, bending belief as well as the ball with a blinding free-kick.
Hitherto a different reality began to offer itself, that Gerrard might be playing his last for Liverpool in this competition. After an absence of five years, their Champions League return was never meant to be a burden, a midweek stretch of angst and toil. But this is what it had become, the only group win delivered via a late penalty, debatable at that, put away by Gerrard at home to Ludogorets.
A win against Basel and anything might be possible was the sentiment swirling around Anfield. After all there was a precedent to this kind of dreaming; again Gerrard was at the heart of it a decade ago scoring the goal that saw off Olympiakos in the final group encounter.
We all know where that led, to Istanbul and Gerrard’s finest moment in a career that promised and deserved more. Tuesday night was a kind of groundhog day, pitching him at the same crossroads in a sense, what to do at the season’s end?
Victory over Milan altered the course of history. A proposed move to Chelsea was never on after a night in which Liverpool embellished their legend with a fifth European Cup victory against the odds. Gerrard thought then that his career ambitions could be met at the club he loved under the aegis of a coach acquiring guru status.
To be fair Rafa Benitez thought so too. Together skipper and manager took the fight to Manchester United, coming within a point of the championship in 2009. You wonder if what happened next, which is eerily similar to the experience of this season, informs the big decision Gerrard must make next.
He learned in 2010 and again this term, that optimism and progression are not necessarily aligned. Perhaps we are wired to see the upward curve continuing inexorably towards a happy conclusion. Bitter experience has taught Gerrard otherwise.
If he is ever to embellish his career with the championship medal his talent deserves, then he will almost certainly have to walk away from Anfield, which made Tuesday night’s engagement all the more significant for him.
Chelsea remains an obvious destination. Jose Mourinho is as much an admirer now as he was a decade ago and judging by the success of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, both playing key roles in semi-retirement at Chelsea and Manchester City, who is to say Gerrard would not prosper playing a reduced schedule at Stamford Bridge?
Though that is a heresy that will never be discussed openly in this precinct, the private sphere is a limitless host to possibility. Open season on his signature will begin in three week’s time when the curtain goes up on legal approaches to players coming to the end of contracts.
Gerrard was first on to the pitch, leading the Liverpool players out 35 minutes before kick-off. The Kop was only sparsely populated at this point but Gerrard raised both hands in salute to those who had taken their seats.
Half an hour later, when the scarves went up around the ground, it was possible to view the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as a hymn to Gerrard alone. None on The Kop entertained the idea that this might be his last Champions League match for Liverpool, but you can bet he understood only too well the significance of the 90 minutes ahead, for the club and for himself.
The Basel section in the Anfield Road End had had the evening to themselves until then, setting the noise agenda. Thereafter, Anfield made itself known. A little like the universal appreciation of the haka when the All Blacks take the field, to experience The Kop in full voice is a box for any visiting fan to tick.
Gerrard was restored to his attacking role, if not thundering through the middle like days of old, still the most menacing red shirt in this group. His was the first strike of the night, a side-footed effort that, had it fallen at his feet later in the piece, might have been dispatched with proper venom.
It proved a false friend. The red tide of last season is only a memory now. Basel might have been two to the good at the break, having a second chalked off for offside.
Gerrard can’t spell quit. A typically strident tackle after Lazar Markovic’s daft sending off and a late surge that might have yielded a penalty presaged what was to come. But in the end it turned out to be his Dylan Thomas moment, a protest against the dying of the red light.
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