Steven Gerrard – Universally Known, Nationally Doubted
They thought his best days were behind him. They said he would never produce at the highest level again. They even questioned the mans love for his own country. But popular belief never really knew Steven Gerrard properly, did it?
Coming into Euro 2012 it would have been easy to dismiss the captaincy given the controversy surrounding previous bearers of the armband. But to go one further and doubt a man who has carried one of world footballs major clubs for the best part of a decade, not to mention a more than respectable track record at major tournaments in years gone by, is just plain madness.
With the quarter-final against an Italy side very much compared to Roy Hodgson’s new England just days away it’s more than safe to say Gerrard has banished this ridiculous, tasteless and shallow theory that he cannot lead his country. England topped the group avoiding defeat against a French side who had gone 21 games unbeaten under Laurent Blanc. Then an enthralling 3-2 victory against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden followed as Gerrard began to rack up the assists. England have long wasted the many talents Liverpool’s skipper possesses but against Ukraine Gerrard made sure England avoided Spain in the knock-out rounds with an imperious display that had Europe salivating.
England’s quarter-final opponents have their own talisman to speak of in Daniele De Rossi and it was in his pre-match press conference that gave us the clearest indication of how Gerrard is viewed amongst his peers. “Steven Gerrard is my idol, he has been at the pinnacle of football for 10 years, He is the symbol of the England team and the symbol, I think, of the universal player, too, because he can play well in defence and attack.”
For the majority of his England career Gerrard has had to compromise with several top class midfielders in the national team often finding himself used on either side of the wings in England’s rigid 4-4-2 formation but that’s not how you are going to get the best out of him. At his club Gerrard dictates games because he is told he can. Rafael Benitez gave him licence to roam as Liverpool lifted their fifth European Cup in 2005. It couldn’t have been done without the skipper. A year after he played the FA Cup final that is now named after him because he simply won it all by himself. Dozens of other games are printed with his name on it because he has been devastatingly brilliant for such large parts of his Liverpool career
Few people like De Rossi have ever afforded themselves peace of mind when trying to find the key to unlocking Gerrard’s qualities. At Liverpool games don’t shape Gerrard’s contribution as much as Gerrard shapes games. He decides the tempo of the contest that not many can keep up with such is his versatility. ”You see both sides of his game all the time – I would like to be more like that. He is such a positive player for England. To play quality football, you need complete players who have to adapt to different positions. Gerrard has for so long now.” said De Rossi.
England’s chief sports writers were very quick to move to apprehension over Gerrard’s form and mental state of mind weeks before the Three Lions kicked off their campaign against France but the captain is now assured of player of the tournament status. That his abilities were even doubted proves how folly the nation have been with this special talent.
In France Gerrard would have been cherished as much as Zinedine Zidane was with formations and teams built around him. In Italy Gerrard would have been the point of reference in a side constantly seeking a tactical edge. In Spain Gerrard would easily assume his role in the tiki-taka philosophy and perhaps even give the pass masters another dynamic, explosive facet to their game. But for England he has been banished out on the left wing enough times to know where his true place has laid in this squad. Do the leg work because no one else will. Be James Milner even though you can win European Cups all by yourself.
At 32-years of age Gerrard is now ‘finally’ making his mark on the international stage. He made his mark years ago. Those that appreciate him always knew that. Roy Hodgson’s biggest success was deploying him in a central role with responsibility. You only have to look at what damage he did for Liverpool when placed in a similar situation. There is no conundrum with him and there is no massive question looming over the secrets of how the country could unlock the talents of this very special footballer. He has always been there. They just didn’t believe it.