Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend, with the trophies to prove it: since making his debut in 1998, he has won three League Cups, two FA Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, one FA Community Shield, one UEFA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. He is a one club man: approaching 700 appearances for the Reds. He has more than 100 caps for his country, England.
Steven Gerrard is also getting old. He will be 35 at the end of next May. Gerrard's age, the fact he is in the last year of his current contract, and Liverpool's indifferent form in the English Premier League have combined to create a great deal of speculation about his future.
At the end of October, he said he wouldn't be retiring at the end of the current season, but that he would not necessarily stay at Liverpool. At the beginning of December, Liverpool put a new contract on the table; club manager, Brendan Rodgers - rumored to have a somewhat uneasy relationship with Gerrard of late - said the club captain's decision would not be about money.
Rather, the question would appear to be whether the role Rodgers has sketched for Gerrard's twilight years is to his satisfaction. And the bonus question is whether Rodgers will still be in charge of Liverpool by the end of this season.
With all that in play, and until a new contract is signed, all anyone knows is Gerrard intends to keep playing and he might not do so for Liverpool. He has been connected with his hometown club since he was nine years old: no one expects him to play for any other team in England. But unexpected is not the same as impossible.
He might find a club in Europe willing to take him on, though whether the truly high-profile teams want a player who appears to be in decline is another question entirely. Or he might try his hand at a new writing a new chapter for his career.
Enter Gerard Houllier. The Head of Global Football for Red Bull was the manager of Liverpool when Gerrard made his debut, win his first major trophies, and became the club captain. Gerard and Gerrard go way back.
As such, it might be best to read the Telegraph's report that Houllier has put a discovery claim on Gerrard with some restraint.
There is no reason to doubt the newpaper's reporting: if it says the New York Red Bulls have claimed first right of refusal for Gerrard's services should he turn his attention to MLS, then that should be good enough for us. There is reason to doubt this is anything more significant than Houllier helping an old friend gain a little leverage in a negotiation.
Liverpool's captain seems clear on his intention to play for the only club he has ever known at least until the end of the season. If he doesn't like his current offer, he can bide his time. If his form improves - or a new manager arrives - perhaps the club's offer changes. If he can't revive his best form, maybe he warms up to whatever plan Rodgers has in mind. Liverpool doesn't want its club captain for most of the past decade walking away under a cloud. Both parties would be well advised to avoid acting in haste.
All of which suggests Gerrard isn't going anywhere until at least May. MLS will be in full swing again. The Red Bulls may no longer have room or need for a star name in the midfield. They don't have great need for a central midfielder right now, though Gerrard is the sort of player for whom a club of RBNY's standing might make room.
And a discovery claim is not a strong indication of anything. Erik Soler, who preceded Andy Roxburgh as RBNY's sporting director, made a habit of slapping claims on just about every player he saw. It wasn't enough to land Kaka, or Alessandro Nesta (though at least in the case of the latter, Soler managed to squeeze some cash for the club out of the failed negotiation).
RBNY may have first refusal on Gerrard if he turns his attention to MLS, but Liverpool unquestionably has first refusal on his career as a whole.
If Gerrard is balking at the role defined for him in his contract offer, the ability to point to other options is much more urgent than the need to actually find another club, at least for now. It would appear Houllier is just throwing some low-risk support behind a friend in need.