Liverpool threw its full support behind captain Steven Gerrard on Tuesday after he was charged with assault and affray in connection with a brawl at a bar.
The England international, hailed as one of the world's best midfielders, was charged earlier in the day alongside two other men after spending 24 hours in police custody following the incident in the seaside resort of Southport in Merseyside.
If convicted, he faces a maximum five-year prison sentence. But Liverpool is adamant that its talismanic player will remain a vital part of the club's push for a first English league title since 1990 while retaining the backing of manager Rafa Benitez. "Steven has been an outstanding servant to Liverpool for the last 10 years and the club will give him all the support he needs at this time," Liverpool said in a statement.
The 28-year-old Gerrard will be in contention for Saturday's FA Cup match at Preston after being released on bail to appear in court on Jan. 23 and is expected back in training on Wednesday. The Football Association said he remains eligible to make his 71st England appearance in the Feb. 11 friendly against Spain in Seville.
John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, who are from the Huyton area of Liverpool where Gerrard grew up, were charged with the same offenses by Merseyside Police.
In the altercation outside the Lounge Inn, the bar's 34-year-old disc jockey, Marcus McGee, lost a tooth and was cut on his forehead. He was hospitalized and released.
Gerrard had been celebrating Sunday's 5-1 victory over Newcastle in which he scored twice as Liverpool went three points clear atop the Premier League.
Liverpool staying there until May will rely heavily on Gerrard's presence in the team, and former Reds striker Kenny Dalglish, who was manager during the last league triumph in 1990, believes that Gerrard will not be distracted on the pitch by his legal plight. "The Liverpool fans will support him tremendously well," Dalglish said. "He's a really strong character and I'm sure it won't affect his performance.
"At the end of the day, he will wish, like everybody else, it had never happened, but it has happened. He'll deal with it superbly well and he'll get fantastic support from everyone round about him."
Benitez sees Gerrard as the key ingredient in bringing trophies to Anfield.
"He is still young, 28 for a player is the best age and I think that he will not lose his power and he will not lose his quality," Benitez said earlier this season. "He is now one of the big names of world football and 10 years in the same club and scoring (109) goals for a midfielder is amazing."
And he has found the net this season to clinch wins over Marseille (twice), Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, and salvage draws against Atletico Madrid and Hull.
Gerrard's standing in world football was reinforced in October when fellow international professionals named him in FIFPro's team-of-the-year lineup.
Gerrard has acknowledged that the plaudits have intensified the scrutiny.
"Everywhere I go, whether on holiday or around Europe with Liverpool, everyone is talking about the games in such detail," he has said. "The interest blows me away at times. I'll admit it is really flattering, and I have to pinch myself and have a good think of where I am.
"But the people I have around me, like my family, keep me humble, they keep my feet on the ground."
Gerrard was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II after leading Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.
"He is an example to everyone," Benitez said. "He always trains hard and is a good professional. He is always committed on the pitch, it is a kind of leadership that all captains should aspire to."