Liverpool go to AFC Wimbledon tonight with the news of Steven Gerrard leaving at end of the season looming over their fans, and his absence will be felt in much wider circles than the playing surface of Anfield, says Lee Eustace.

The date has been set. May the 24th. The day that Liverpool fans will retreat into the darkness with a litre of ice cream, a box of tissues and a James Blunt Cd. A day that will see Steven Gerrard don the red of Liverpool for what is likely to be the last time.

Having made an announcement regarding his future on Friday, the media has been inundated with messages of support and gratitude for Liverpool’s number eight.  Managers, players, ex-players, journalists and supporters alike have been quick with their response to Gerrard’s decision; some supportive, others not so much.

In an age of such vast media coverage and such extensive personal opinion, it is easy to become entrapped in minor debates and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Regardless of whether Steven is, or will come to be, considered Liverpool’s greatest ever player, irrespective of whether or not he would have won multiple league titles in previous Liverpool teams or competing Premier League teams, the fact remains that Steven Gerrard was a fabulous football player, a leader and match-winner for well over a decade, a true Liverpool legend, and perhaps, most importantly, a genuine role model.

In an era of self-entitled athletes, wherein professional sport has become a cesspit of gross mis-conduct and immoral actions, Gerrard stands at the forefront of modern professionalism. Revered equally both on and off the pitch, Gerrard’s honesty and commitment, not to mention his loyalty, serve as a reminder of the sort of example that footballers should provide.

For many supporters, Gerrard is more than just a player, but rather an icon. His name has come to be synonymous with Liverpool football, a club which he has been affiliated with for almost twenty-five years. An entire generation of Liverpool fans have been raised during the Gerrard era, an era of last-gasp goals and endearing commitment. For those supporters, May 24th represents the end of an era.

Although the Gerrard era may not have been as successful as one might have hoped, few can point the finger at Gerrard himself for such shortcomings. During a decade of managerial casualties and high player turnover,

Gerrard was rarely afforded the playing environment that a player of his quality requires. Giving rise to the fickle argument that is so often thrown in his direction - that illusive Premier League medal.

For those too shallow to overlook the one medal in club football that doesn’t appear in Gerrard’s trophy cabinet, you need not look any further than the likes of Suarez, Zola and Le Tissier, all of whom share in Gerrard’s plight of having played in teams unbecoming of their individual talents.  

Of the trio above, Suarez epitomises the modern footballer, immoral, self-entitled and always available to the highest bidder.

Gerrard meanwhile, arguably equally talented in his prime, echoes the elegance of a Zola or a Le Tissier, of footballers belonging to a previous generation. 

What Gerrard has earned is a right to be respected. His decision to leave Liverpool was handled amicably, even though murmurs suggest that Liverpool as a club was somewhat disrespectful towards their long-standing captain.

Gerrard will leave the club on May 24th but his name will be sung around the stands in Anfield for decades to come.