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In Cleveland, hope dies last

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The Anti-Lebron

Steven Gerrard is no LeBron James.

And Liverpool fans couldn’t be happier.

Gerrard, captain of Liverpool and England, decided this week to turn down the opportunity to “take his talents to South Beach,” we mean to a star-studded Real Madrid team, and remain at Anfield. Gerrard, a Merseyside native, joined his hometown team’s youth academy at age 8 and has been with them ever since.

This isn’t the first time Gerrard has turned down an opportunity to leave home. He almost moved to Chelsea – a wealthy, high-priced London team – in 2005 after leading Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.

But rather than turn his back on home, Gerrard remained, realizing that winning titles as the leader of your hometown team is infinitely better than joining an all-star team that is trying to buy titles.

He was 25 at the time, but was mature enough not to be lured by the bright lights and fast living of the big city. Sadly, we can’t say the same about a 25-year-old LeBron.

Now 30, Gerrard is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. It would have been easy for him to leave Anfield for one final big payday, one more chance to lift a cup, especially with:

  • a new manager, Roy Hodgson, taking over for the fired Rafa Benitez
  • one of the worst ownership situations in sports (seriously, we think the Dolans are bad, but Tom Hicks and George Gillette are worse. Google them, you’ll see)
  • the team coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish that leaves them in the wilds of the Europa League for the upcoming season, rather than the more lucrative Champions League.

But he stayed. He realizes that there truly is no place like home.

“I wanted the chance to meet Roy (Hodgson) privately and having done so, I’m very impressed with his plans for the future,” Gerrard said in The Daily Mail. “I can’t wait for the start of the new season.”

That’s right, Gerrard met with his new coach before he made his decision. LeBron, of course, couldn’t be bothered to speak with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, let alone new coach Byron Scott in the days leading up to free agency.

Gerrard not only stayed, he actually spent time at the World Cup recruiting players, selling them on coming to Anfield. According to The Daily Mail:

“During the World Cup finals, while every Liverpool fan and their new manager endured sleepless nights, worried that their talismanic captain would finally be lured away from Anfield to either Madrid, Milan or Manchester, Steven Gerrard was actually busy recruiting new players for his club.

“He may have claimed he was deferring all talk surrounding his future during the difficult time leading his country in South Africa, but Gerrard appears to have made an exception when it comes to players signing for his beloved team.

“We know now the Liverpool and England skipper was actively working behind the scenes at the England camp to sell his club to one of the game’s most talented players – and this week the Merseyside giants signed Joe Cole.”

Hodgson credited Gerrard and teammate Jamie Carragher, a fellow Merseysider, with selling Cole on the move to Anfield.

“Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard did a good job in selling the club to Joe at the World Cup,” the Liverpool manager told The Daily Mail. “He was undecided about what he wanted to do and, to be fair, it takes a bit more selling to persuade a Londoner, who has played all his life in the capital, to move up to Liverpool. The simple solution would have been to stay in the London area.”

We all know about the problems the Cavs have with luring free agents to Cleveland, a city very much like Liverpool, and LeBron’s unwillingness to help out certainly didn’t help. You can’t help but wonder how effective he could have been if he’d used his status as one of the league’s best players to actively recruit players to Cleveland.

But LeBron is no Steven Gerrard.

And Cleveland fans couldn’t be sadder.

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