We are in the middle of the build up to the World Cup and everything else is off the menu till that day when England either bow out of the tournament or win the cup on 11th July. At the moment, my own personal jury is out on those predictions as I try to keep rational about the World Cup and the national team’s progress in South Africa.
It may be the last ‘hurrah’ for the golden generation (if there was ever such a generation) but I truly hope that England has a decent tournament. I can not cope with another 2006 competition with too many dull matches as well as stuttering England performances. I also appreciate that there are a number of players who need a ‘good World Cup’ to justify their place in the history of England’s hall of fame.
Forget the ‘ironic’ comedy from unknown comedians with a sudden interest in football or the thought provoking articles doing a psycho-analysis of the national team. Many of us like to go on about how England contains some of the best players in the world. I can not go through a month without someone telling me that Ashley Cole is the best left back in the world, and I am also told to believe that Wayne Rooney is a ‘truly world class’ striker. For me, a truly world class striker needs to have that little something which is a bit special that can take your breath away. When I think about Cole or Rooney, I believe that only one of those players is ‘world class’ footballer and you can guess the player which I mean.
I would suggest to you that Steven Gerrard is a ‘world class’ player on and off the ball but it is increasingly obvious that he has never quite been given the credit that he deserves on the national stage. When club football is forgotten about and we start to worry about the Slovenian and Algerian teams, I always sense that Gerrard’s name has a big question mark next to it when we talk about the national team. Why?
I do not know whether this argument on the national stage is due to the issue that the London media are sceptical about any talent that originates and plays on Merseyside, or whether everyone constantly ponders whether Lampard or Gerrard can play together without really considering the merits of the two individual players. When you go down the leagues, there is a group of players who can guarantee to get your club promoted but do nothing in the following season. I do not want to see Gerrard as a ‘nearly man’ who is part of a similar group of players who could do well for a top four premiership club but do nothing for the national team.
To be fair, history has not been kind to the Liverpool captain. Gerrard has never quite had a decent international tournament for England. For a player that has been the heartbeat of Liverpool FC for nearly ten years, Gerrard has only been a spasmodic pulse at the World Cups and the Euro Championships of the twenty first century’s first decade. And in the febrile atmosphere of England expectation, where most fans expect continuous goals, thumping score lines, and the ball marooned in the opposition half, any impression that a player is not performing to the anticipated level of talent is dismissed as excess baggage. Behaving like that would do Gerrard a disservice and you would be totally disregarding his football talents.
It is not rocket science to appreciate that Gerrard perform best in the centre of the midfield. When Gerrard suggested that fact in the past, the chattering classes castigated the player on the grounds that seem to suggest that he was a ‘one trick pony’ who failed to appreciate that a England player should be willing to play in a variety of positions. I suppose that when you are a midfielder, you are under a vow of silence and accept the fact that it is a privilege to play for England, but it is fair for the best players to play in their best positions. Why should the England manager put square pegs in round holes?
It is not just at Anfield where Gerrard is able to work the ball from defence to the strikers or even take a shot himself. It has been an essential part of Liverpool during the last decade for Gerrard to be patrolling the midfield, and kicking off another surge towards the goal. I might be biased. I have a soft spot for Liverpool. I also like Gerrard and value attacking midfielders. In fact, Gerrard typifies the attacking midfielder that I believe is essential if England is to do anything during the next couple of months. Putting Gerrard on the wing and out of the hustle and bustle of a dog-eat-dog midfield in a match such as a key World Cup quarter final game is a total waste of his talents. How many World Cup winners have won the tournament playing their best players in unfamiliar or unflattering positions?
With the right positioning on the pitch, Gerrard needs to perform in this tournament. He could even be an England captain. With the freedom of expression, I do not believe that Gerrard can quite use the excuse that he underperformed in the World Cup due to transfer talk playing out in the papers and on the airwaves in the UK. I liked the statement during the last couple of weeks when Gerrard affirmed that he would be 100% focused on the tournament in the South Africa rather than collapsing into mental torment about the rumour and the scandal back home. Liverpool FC obviously benefited from Gerrard lifting the European Cup in 2005. The club will also benefit from the sight of their key player playing the important role in the national team. At least, there will be some appreciation that good football is played by supreme English players who are born, raised and playing on Merseyside. That convenor belt did not stop at the end of the eighties.
Looking back through this article makes me think that I should have Gerrard printed on the back of my England shirt, when I have a rush of blood to the head and decide that I need to the latest red jersey alongside my England water bottle, tent, sweat band or St George labelled chocolate bar. I just want to see the Liverpool captain having a decent World Cup and totally justify his status as one of the key England players of the last ten years; essentially my generation.