The MSR advent calendar: Our favorite signings that never happened: Door 17 – Steven Gerrard
This article was written by Jonas Austermann, who reports on FC Bayern for the TZ and the Münchner Merkur.
In the summer of 2012, after the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, it happened: FC Bayern approached Gerrard’s agent inquiring about a possible transfer. The then 32-year-old confirmed this in his autobiography “My Story”. As is well known, the talks did not lead to anything, but they are reason enough for me to dream a bit.
Summer 2012: The German record champions are licking their wounds after the season has finished. Coach Jupp Heynckes and his team had just experienced an unimaginably bitter campaign. FC Bayern finished eight points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Jürgen Klopp’s team also inflicted a 2-5 defeat on Munich in the DFB-Pokal final. And then there was the trauma of the Champions League finale dahoam – a 3-4 defeat on penalties against Chelsea FC.
A club in shambles, therefore? Far from it! Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who is on holiday in Sylt, and coach Heynckes talked on the phone every day. They were discussing how to turn the situation around.
The previous year, Bayern had brought in keeper Manuel Neuer from FC Schalke 04, centre-back Jérôme Boateng from Manchester City and the Brazilian Rafinha to replace right-back Philipp Lahm. In Heynckes’ 4-2-3-1 system, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo mostly played in central midfield, although Gustavo had not always been entirely convincing.
Gerrard also had a less than satisfactory 2011/2012 season. Due to groin problems and an infected wound, the Liverpool captain only made 18 Premier League appearances (twelve in the starting eleven). Coach Kenny Dalglish’s team only finished 8th in the league and missed out on international competition by a whopping twelve points. In the summer of 2012, Gerrard played well in the European Championships, but as captain of the Three Lions he was eliminated in the quarter-finals on penalties against Italy.
At 32, the powerful midfielder was no longer the wild, unstoppable box-to-box midfielder of earlier days. Playing next to him, Gerrard often had a smaller but venomous sidekick in either Lucas Leiva or Charlie Adam. The man wearing the number 8 now mostly directed Liverpool’s play with clever passes and dangerous standards rather than going the long distances himself.
It is quite possible that Gerrard’s name came up in the aforementioned telephone conversations between Rummenigge and Heynckes; Bayern were after all looking for a new midfield partner for Schweinsteiger. Gustavo had a fine left foot, but repeatedly showed that he had difficulties keeping focused for 90 minutes – as he for example demonstrated before the early 0-1 in the cup final against Dortmund. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was also not equal to the highest demands. Toni Kroos was more at home in the more offensive central playmaker position.
Gerrard could have taken up the place alongside Schweinsteiger, but I doubt whether he would have added a new flavor to the Bavarian game. Schweinsteiger and the ageing Gerrard were too similar in their playing style for that. Both of them liked to get involved in defensive challenges, but their core competency was in directing and structuring the attacking play of their teams.
FC Bayern ultimately made the only right decision in the summer of 2012, signing the tall and physical Javi Martínez from Bilbao for the then record transfer fee of €40m. The success proved Heynckes right with his costly transfer wish. Bayern recovered from the memorable 2011/2012 season – even without Gerrard.
Not least owing to an outstanding Martínez, Bayern took the Champions League crown after winning the final against Dortmund. In the Bundesliga, Bayern overtook Dortmund to become champions with a massive a 25-point lead, and the DFB-Pokal victory against Stuttgart completed the first treble in the club’s history. Even if Martínez’s style of play no longer really fits the Bayern game of today, he is still a reliable back-up in central defense and occasionally in midfield, and he can still be an important goal scorer as he for example showed in the UEFA Super Cup. In all likelihood, the Spaniard’s stay in Munich will end next summer. He is looking for new shores and “new goals”.
And Gerrard? After his mixed season with Liverpool FC in 2011/2012, he regained his strength and made many more appearances for his club. Tragically, he lost his footing near the halfway line in April 2014 and allowed Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score an easy goal. As a result, Liverpool lost a decisive game on the home stretch of the title race, ending up only runners-up.
Gerrard may be in some ways described as ‘unfinished’ because he remained without a Premier League title throughout his career, but he is also one of the famous “one-club-men”. His final move to the football retirement home called Major League Soccer (MLS) with Los Angeles Galaxy in 2015 could not take away from this status. Two years later, Gerrard hung up his boots for good, first becoming a youth coach at Liverpool, then moving to Glasgow Rangers as head coach in 2018. After two seasons finishing as runners-up, Gerrard is set to end city rivals Celtic’s run of nine consecutive championships this season.
And when it comes to finding a successor for Klopp at Liverpool FC, Gerrard’s name is always mentioned. Incidentally, the two coaches have in common that their contracts expire in 2024…