The worst-kept secret in soccer is no longer secret.
The Galaxy will announce Wednesday morning that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has agreed to an 18-month deal to play for Major League Soccer’s defending champions beginning in July. And though Gerrard admitted the decision to leave the only club he has ever played for was difficult, he has already begun looking forward to a new stage in his career.
“The time’s right for myself and my family for the change, for the fresh challenge,” Gerrard said Tuesday by phone from Liverpool. “I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve given an awful lot back to this club.
“But I now I feel it’s the time for a fresh break and to try something different.”
The signing, which The Times confirmed Saturday, is among the most significant in the 19-year history of MLS and the Galaxy, the league’s five-time champion. Although Gerrard, at 34, has slowed some, he is still a standout player, one who will give the Galaxy a playmaking midfielder on the field and a box-office draw off it.
Gerrard’s decision to choose the Galaxy also furthers the team’s reputation as the go-to franchise for English Premier League players. In the last nine years the club has signed two former English national team captains in Gerrard and David Beckham as well as Irish national team captain Robbie Keane, one of the most prolific scorers in EPL history.
“We have a club now with a proven history of success,” said Galaxy Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena, who has led the team to three MLS titles in four seasons. “All of those things go hand-in-hand in making LA Galaxy a very attractive team for players such as Steven Gerrard.”
That track record also made Gerrard’s decision to leave Liverpool after 26 years a bit easier. Gerrard entered the team’s youth program when he was 8 and he’s been there ever since, ranking among the team’s all-leaders in appearances (696) and goals (182).
One thing he hasn’t done at Liverpool, though, is win a league championship. Although the Reds won two FA Cups, three League Cups and four different European titles with Gerrard, they never finished better than second in the EPL.
“I want to finish my career very strong. I want to add some more medals and trophies to my collection,” Gerrard said. “So I think it’s a match made in heaven, really.
“One of the reasons why I chose the LA Galaxy was because of the success they’ve had recently. But also the plans for more success in the future.”
The Galaxy’s pursuit of Gerrard began shortly after Landon Donovan’s announcement in August that he would retire after the season. MLS teams have a salary cap of $3.1 million but each club can sign three so-called “designated players” whose contracts count only partially toward that cap. So when Donovan retired, the Galaxy got back both a DP slot and the $8.5 million in base salary Donovan had left on his contract.
That money will now go to Gerrard, who will reportedly earn $9 million during his two seasons with the Galaxy — $3 million this summer because he’ll join the team in midseason and $6 million in 2016. The league is said to have contributed $750,000 to the deal.
The Galaxy, citing club policy, declined to comment on the salary figures.
“We just started thinking in the universe of players that are out there, we want to make a decision on what signifies a Galaxy designated player,” team President Chris Klein said. “When we look at that, Steven Gerrard is the perfect fit with what he brings to us on the field and the character that he has off it.”
Gerrard said that the Galaxy was very aggressive in its pursuit of him but what really sealed the deal was a conversation he had with Liverpool Coach Brendan Rodgers, who told his captain his playing time would probably decline in the second half of the season.
That talk, combined with Liverpool’s most recent contract offer — for just one more season at $6.5 million, half of what he’ll earn this season — let Gerrard know he wasn’t going to be a big part of the team going forward.
“I don’t want to get to a certain age in my life and have any regrets,” he said. “I’ve had many an opportunity to move away from Liverpool and I’ve always turned it down.
“The time is right to go [now] and sample something different and get a new life experience.”
Gerrard will play out his contract in Liverpool, finishing the EPL season in May before joining the Galaxy when the transfer window opens July 8. But exactly where he’ll play when that happens is still to be determined, Arena said.
Although Gerrard is taking Donovan’s roster spot and salary, that doesn’t mean he’ll replace him as a second forward or attacking midfielder in the Galaxy lineup. He has excelled in both positions in the past, but Gerrard has also played as a holding midfielder lately.
“Steven Gerrard arrives in July and by then we will certainly have a plan available,” Arena said. “He’s a player of quality. I’m not concerned about how he’s going to fit in with our team.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11