If you are going to stand at the shoulder of Bobby Moore, then what better opponent could there be than Germany to bring up cap No 108? It remains a stretch to imagine Gerrard emulating Moore’s World Cup ascent in 1966 when history calls him to account, but there is no denying the substance of the body of work Gerrard has produced, if not necessarily in the service of his country.
It is hardly Gerrard’s fault that the football landscape has changed radically since Moore’s day. England’s failure to build on the Moore legacy is a catastrophe our game has yet to fully comprehend. Greg Dyke’s fabled FA Commission is arguably the latest stab at coming to some sort of understanding of how the nation that gave football to the world has flunked its lines so profoundly.
Though Gerrard proclaims a sincere attachment to the Three Lions, it is increasingly implausible to maintain that international duty takes a player to the summit of the game as it did Moore et al. The emergence of the Champions League contested by teams expensively assembled by petro-billionaires has elevated clubs to a level beyond the scope of most national teams. Witness Leo Messi labouring goalless through the last World Cup for Argentina.
European club competition was in its infancy, distrusted in fact, when Moore was coming through the ranks as a nipper with West Ham. English clubs were populated by British players and to be selected for England represented a career high. When Moore took the ultimate step against West Germany few thought that it would be the only triumph for football’s mother country and none foresaw the day when the World Cup’s status might be eroded.
But if there is one fixture that still hums with significance for Englishmen then it is this. And it fell to Gerrard to do what he has done so often in the service of Liverpool, to bring to England a sense of purpose and cohesion to the piece.
England were a team without a pivot against Chile, a jumbled ensemble hitting and hoping against a well-drilled, competent foe with a world-class striker full of running.
Germany can call on any number of players who stand comparison with Alexis Sanchez, though many were missing or stood down. Joachim Löw can afford to play the long game. There is not the same urgency to find a formula that works since that is inherent in the system. Besides, though there was no Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Philip Lahm, left out altogether, or Thomas Müller, benched, Löw could still call upon the sumptuous trio of Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Toni Kroos.
The England experience is less complicated for Gerrard when Frank Lampard is absent, his role more clearly defined, especially in this phase of his career when the forward gears are rarely engaged. There was an early Hollywood ball in search of Wayne Rooney that has become the signature move of his mature years but in the main he was content to bob and weave at the base of the midfield scrum.
Watching Gerrard content himself with this contained role, you wondered how well he might have fitted in the ‘66 squad doing the fetching and carrying that fell to Nobby Stiles. Or indeed what the younger Gerrard might have offered alongside Martin Peters or Alan Ball.
Ironically it was Gerrard who conceded the corner that ultimately led to the opening goal. There was irony, too, that Germany should take the lead with a goal rooted in a set-piece staple of the English game, a tanking header by Per Mertesacker, expertly fulfilling the big man role. Germany had been no better than England. The difference was in the margins, which is pretty much what Gerrard predicted in the build-up.
The goal served the game well in that it shot a welcome dose of intensity into the contest. Gerrard had a crack before the break from distance which skimmed the top of the netting, but it would be left to those coming up behind to try to salvage the night.
Gerrard was sent to the showers 10 minutes into the second half, replaced by his Liverpool team-mate Jordan Henderson. Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley followed, two players who appear destined to have a big role in shaping England’s future when Gerrard is withdrawn for good post-Brazil.
Over the extent of their careers this great nation of ours might just have muddled its way towards a proper understanding of the requirements to succeed on the international stage. It would be a pity were another generation to be consumed by the same fug of indifference that has dogged England for so long.
Germany continue to prosper because they understand the value of the national team. England must learn to do the same.
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