Gerrard: 'Benitez has to buy us that extra spark'

The Liverpool captain takes a break from training with England to reflect on another season that fell short of expectations at Anfield
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The Independent Online

Come this time next year, Steven Gerrard will have a pretty good idea of how his legacy in football is likely to shape up. At the age of 30 he might well be celebrating his first Premier League title and approaching a World Cup finals with England at the very peak of his career. Then again, he has been let down before.

The Football Writers' Association Player of the Year has just about everything a modern footballer could want: the reputation, the status and most of the important medals but there is still that hint of melancholy about Gerrard come the end of every season. This week at England's Hertfordshire hotel, he picked over another season at Liverpool that did not deliver the Premier League and he looked forward to a World Cup finals when he could at last deliver on the biggest stage of all.

The Groundhog Day feel to Gerrard's career was only heightened by his endorsement of Gareth Barry, in the hope that the Aston Villa midfielder might at last be coming to Anfield this summer. It was exactly the same last summer when, a few days before England played Trinidad & Tobago on 1 June, Gerrard said he wanted Barry to join Liverpool and in doing so added fuel to the feud between the two clubs.

No sooner had he made his plea this week than it emerged that Barry was in talks with Manchester City. Another one lost by Liverpool to rivals with more money in a hurry to get things done. Gerrard has never been slow to point out where his club require strengthening and he seems to get ever more outspoken the more he feels that time is running out for him.

"It's not just out wide we need players," he said. "I think if you look at the squad in general, Manchester United won the league this year because they had that little bit of spark coming off the bench, that little bit more strength in depth. If we can add two or three more to the quality we've already got in the squad, then I feel we'll be on a par with them.

"Judging our season as a failure is a bit strong but you know you've got to be realistic and look at the bigger picture. We've finished the season without a trophy, which hurts. But from a Liverpool point of view there's certainly been a lot of progress made. We're getting really close to being champions so our next two or three signings are vital to push on and try and go one better than this year. But I'm certainly not sitting here proud of not winning a trophy."

As for England, Gerrard has nominally been stationed on the left of midfield but in reality he is one of a pair – with Wayne Rooney – playing behind Emile Heskey (against Slovakia on 28 March) and Peter Crouch (against Ukraine). "I feel more confident, I feel in this position I can express myself," he said. "It's been working well of late, the relationship with Wayne, and the team's been playing well. If the team's playing well and I'm doing okay, I'm happy.

"It's difficult to say how far off we are but it is clear Spain are the benchmark for this team and they have to be massive favourites for [the World Cup finals in] South Africa given how well they've been playing of late and how well they played against us [in the 2-0 win in February]. I think it was good that we played them, to get an idea of how good they are and what we need to improve by the time we get to South Africa.

"It's easy to comment on players like Xavi [Hernandez] and [Andres] Iniesta – they're world-class. If they're on their games they can be difficult to play against, even unplayable."

He might look a bit grumpy but really Gerrard's career is shaping up for a grand finale. When he joked that he would not be around for the 2014 World Cup finals he was reminded of David Beckham's longevity – "Yeah, but he's Beckham," was the response, as if to suggest old Goldenballs is a one-off. Still life could be worse. Michael Owen is not just out of the England squad, at 29 years old, he no longer even has a club.

Gerrard gave his former Liverpool team-mate his support although no one is anticipating seeing Owen back in the England squad any time soon. "I'm a player, I'm not a scout or a manager but if I was I would be giving Michael a ring," Gerrard said. "I'm a big fan of Michael, a good friend of his and I would love to see him get a move to a big club and get his England career back on track.

"He's suffered a lot in the last couple of years with injuries but a fit Michael Owen has got the ability to be involved in this squad for sure. I've not spoken to him that much of late but I'm sure, knowing Michael as long as I have, he will be desperate to get back playing football again, stay fit and scoring goals."

Should these two matches yield the full six points then it will be difficult to stop the England hype from frothing out of control. Nevertheless, 11 days in the austere Fabio Capello boot camp is enough to dampen any player's enthusiasm for Il Capo. "I think he [Capello] can make the difference," Gerrard said. "He could be the key to the side having a successful World Cup. He is one of a handful of managers who are the best. Managers who are that good can make the difference."

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