Steven Gerrard, a certified Anfield icon and arguably the greatest player in Liverpool history, will walk out that door next summer and end his career beyond the cozy confines of his boyhood club.

What was unthinkable just a few months ago became inevitable Friday when the 34-year-old announced he will leave Liverpool when his contract expires at the end of the 2014-15 season. Gerrard will not be a Liverpool player for the first time in 25 years, 17 of which he spent playing in the Reds’ first team and the last 11-plus as club captain.

In a perfect world, Gerrard never would leave Liverpool, but this is real life. Gerrard is nearing the end of his storied career. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is building a new team for the second half of this decade. The two paths didn’t always mesh in the best of times, and the difficulty of making them fit together only would increase with the passage of time.

Gerrard’s numbers don’t adequately describe the impression he’ll leave on Liverpool Football Club. Gerrard has played 690 games for Liverpool. Only Jamie Carragher and Ian Callaghan have played more in the club’s 122-year history. Gerrard’s 180 goals are sixth in club history — not bad at all for a midfielder. Gerrard helped Liverpool win 10 major trophies, and his starring roles in the finals of both the 2005 UEFA Champions League and the 2006 FA Cup finals are the stuff of legend. Yet, all this doesn’t sum up what he means to the club (and vice-versa).

Gerrard joined Liverpool’s academy at age 8. He was a first-team debutant at age 18 and club captain by 23. Gerrard’s Liverpool story is that of the local boy who rose through his favorite team’s ranks to make the grade, then led it through highs, lows and everything in between over the span of a generation.

Enduring feats of strength, class and immense loyalty characterize Gerrard’s Anfield career. Regardless of how many world-class players were on Liverpool’s team at any given moment, Gerrard was the talisman, the one who rescued the Reds time and time again.

Therein lies the reason why next summer is a good time for Gerrard to leave Liverpool. Gerrard no longer is the talisman he once was. The ravages of age and injuries, as well as the demands of Rodgers’ systems have tempered Gerrard’s barnstorming style of play. Gerrard still is capable of golden moments, but his instances of dominance or rescuing points on Liverpool’s behalf aren’t as frequent as they once were.

Liverpool offered Gerrard a new contract in late 2014. Only the club and his camp know the offer’s specifics, but it would be a mistake to promise Gerrard similar wages and playing time as he currently earns. Gerrard is an aging star, Liverpool’s resources are finite, and Rodgers might have had to decide how much of the wage and playing-time pies he’d give the club’s longest-serving captain in the years to come.

Gerrard intends to play beyond this season. He’s ruled out retiring, and watching an increasing number of games from the bench or stands doesn’t seem like something he’d fancy. Gerrard will play regular games until he no longer can because that’s what he has been training to do for the last quarter century.

The decision always was going to be political dynamite for whoever had to make it. It also would be the most important and consequential one Liverpool had to make in 2015. Ever the leader, Gerrard has sacrificed a Hollywood ending to his Liverpool career by doing what is best for himself, his family, and Liverpool Football Club.

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Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@BBCSport