Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is to leave the club at the end of the season for a move abroad, it has been confirmed.
Gerrard’s future at Anfield has been the subject of speculation for several months and he has decided to continue his career overseas when his contract expires at the end of the season.
The 34-year-old, who scored two penalties in Thursday’s 2-2 home draw against Leicester, is said to be in talks with Major League Soccer franchise LA Galaxy and the two New York clubs – City and Red Bulls.
Gerrard’s decision to quit Liverpool, the only club he has played for in his illustrious professional career, will come as a huge blow to many supporters who were hoping he would stay on.
Explaining his decision, Gerrard said: “This has been the toughest decision of my life and one which both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time.
“I am making the announcement now so that the manager and the team are not distracted by stories or speculation about my future.
“Liverpool Football Club has been such a huge part of all our lives for so long and saying goodbye is going to be difficult, but I feel it’s something that’s in the best interests of all involved, including my family and the club itself.
“I’m going to carry on playing and although I can’t confirm at this stage where that will be, I can say it will be somewhere that means I won’t be playing for a competing club and will not therefore be lining up against Liverpool – that is something I could never contemplate.
“My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over.”
Signalling his hope to return to Liverpool, again, he added: “It is a very special place to be part of. It is my sincere hope and wish that one day I can return to serve Liverpool again, in whatever capacity best helps the club.
“My final message is for the people who make Liverpool Football Club the greatest in the world – the supporters.
“It has been a privilege to represent you, as a player and as captain. I have cherished every second of it and it is my sincere wish to finish this season and my Liverpool career on a high.”
The club’s principal owner John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner said in a joint statement: “This news stirs many strong emotions for all of us connected with the club.
“There is sadness that such a great player and person is leaving and won’t be playing for Liverpool beyond this season.
“But there is also a sense of celebration and gratitude, that we’ve all been privileged to watch and work with one of the true greats, not just of this club, but the game in general.
“His contribution to the club is almost beyond measure and it’s testimony to his influence, that despite Liverpool having such a long and distinguished list of legendary figures, the name Steven Gerrard will always be at the summit.
“Steven will always have a part to play for this club, as and when the time comes that he wishes to return.
“We all wish him well in this endeavour and look forward to welcoming him back to Anfield in the future, when the time is appropriate.”
Former Reds defender Jamie Carragher, a close friend of Gerrard and now a Sky Sports football pundit, wrote on Twitter: “Sad day for LFC & English football with the Gerrard news, I think it’s the right decision all things considered.”
Former England star Gary Lineker tweeted that Liverpool owe Gerrard a huge debt for his loyalty and performances.
“So that’s it then, Gerrard is going. What a player he has been for Liverpool. Dragged teams to levels they’d never have reached without him,” he said.
Gerrard, who stood down as England skipper after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, joined Liverpool as an eight-year-old and has made 695 appearances for the club and lifted 11 trophies.
His greatest moment came when he scored in the Champions League final in 2005 and inspired Liverpool to come from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan and win the trophy on penalties.
But his hopes of winning the Premier League are likely to remain unfulfilled after Liverpool came up agonisingly short last season and lost out to Manchester City.
They currently lie eighth in the table, 17 points behind leaders Chelsea.