London: Outgoing Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said Friday that leaving his childhood club has been the toughest decision of his life.
The ace midfielder, who will turn 35 in May, is out of contract in the summer and despite being offered a new deal, has decided the time is right to leave and pursue a fresh challenge.
"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," Gerrard said in the club's website.
"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."
Gerrard gave Liverpool assurances that he will not join a team that will compete against them, unlike Frank Lampard who left Chelsea and joined Manchester City.
"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."
Gerrard has had a brilliant career at Anfield, but the one trophy he always wanted - the English Premier League - has eluded him.
He has served the club with distinction and inspired Liverpool to their famous 2005 Champions League triumph against AC Milan in 2005.
"Liverpool 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," he said.
"I can't thank Brendan, the owners and everyone at the club enough for how they've handled this and I am leaving on great terms. Also, I would like to thank my teammates and all the staff for their help and continued support."
"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."
Gerrard, who scored two penalties in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw against Leicester on New Year’s Day, is immediately free to talk to foreign clubs.
LA Galaxy, who signed David Beckham in 2007, are among a number of clubs interested in signing Gerrard when his association with Liverpool comes to an end.
New York Red Bulls, who employ former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier as their sporting director, will also be in the mix.
Monday’s FA Cup third round tie at Wimbledon is the start of the long goodbye for a player who has made nearly 700 senior appearances for the club.
He announced his retirement from international football at the start of the season after holding talks with Rodgers aimed at extending his career.