(Take note Steve McClaren)
The phrase ‘Club vs. Country’ is now much a part of football terminology as grass, corner flags and terraces. Millionaires or not, the modern day George Best is subjected to a gruelling campaign which could conceivably stretch from July until mid May. Athletes they may be, machines they are not.
Admittedly, if there is one individual who could be used as a case in point against this thesis it is Steven Gerrard. Quite simply, the Liverpool skipper is a colossus. For this reason, injured or not, he will be determined to feature (against the wishes of his club manager) for England this weekend.
You cannot help but smile when viewing the current Premier League table. Yes folks, we are top of the pile and judging by our current form, good for it. But those of us who have supported the club through the ‘wind and the rain’ appreciate the struggle preceding this ‘golden sky’. Towards the tail-end of Gerard Houllier’s reign expectation was so downcast it resembled a Tory showing in the opinion polls. One man and one man alone prevented a dramatic fall from football’s elite. No, not Igor Biscan, Whiston’s finest – Stevie G.
This rather embarrassing one man crusade culminated in Liverpool just about scraping European qualification and an exhausted Gerrard to match. His excursions were such that when Chelsea, propped-up by Roman’s roubles, came calling, the possibility was more than entertained. But unlike Michael Owen, Gerrard remained loyal, acknowledging all the club had done for him in his career, hell-bent on returning the establishment to its rightful platform.
Thank God, and Rafa Benitez, we are no longer what the so-called experts label a ‘one man team’. Take the centre of midfield alone for instance. Aside from the captain, Benitez can now call on Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva. Behind that illustrious order is Jay Spearing, along with numerous others who have impressed of late within the youth set-up.
Instead, it is England who now rely on Gerrard to pull them out of the mire. For all the hype and hullabaloo, the national team is in actual fact painfully thread-bare when it comes to talent. Look past Gerrard, Lampard, Hargreaves and Carrick and who else is there? Phil Neville? On second thoughts it may be worth asking Gazza to reconsider retirement.
There can be no disguising the reality that Steve McClaren is a desperate man right now. His job, correctly, hangs in the balance. But selecting a guy nursing a fractured toe is beyond sensless. It is selfish to the extreme. As mentioned previously, Gerrard is no longer as pivitol as he was to Liverpool. By no means does that mean he is not essential, he remains our best player and if fit should start every single match. But we can compensate for his absence in the short-term. Playing him against Israel and Russia though may make it a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Nobody can ensure the now world famous toe will not be ‘inadvertently’ stamped upon during Saturday’s game, or Wednesday’s for that matter. If this materialises Liverpool will find themselves in a predicament worse than John Barnes’ presenting skills. Two, even three weeks without Gerrard can be dealt with. Two, to three months cannot.
Maybe I am being somewhat presumptuous here. He could well come through this period unscathed but why run the risk? I know as much about Israeli football as Grant Mitchell does hair, but surely England have enough to overcome them at Wembley, even with Phil Neville in the team.
It does not take a genius, in fact, Jodie Marsh could probably work-out that Russia is the bigger test. If left alone, Gerrard’s toe may well have recovered by then. Why risk his availability for this game with a pointless inclusion against Israel?
It is a scenario as nonsensical as McClaren’s appointment itself. As the headline to this piece highlights, there is only one Steven Gerrard. He is Liverpool’s player primarily, and he should be there recovering, not lining-up to face an outfit whose population is smaller than London.
If the worse does happen the England manager will have Rafa, his beard and thousands of baying Scousers to answer to. All could find him at the job centre.