Gerrard finally gets the chance to fulfil his destiny as captain
Liverpool's dynamic and respected leader will now be able to lead England on to the highest stage
Saturday 05 June 2010
In the space of 24 hours, Steven Gerrard has lost a manager and gained a captaincy and if he was ever in any doubt about the significance of this summer in terms of his own career, then the departure of Rio Ferdinand will have changed that.
Ferdinand's injury at last elevates Gerrard into the role that many believe he should have had a long time ago. As the captain of England at a World Cup finals he finally has the job that he looked destined for ever since he set about dominating the Ukraine midfield on his England debut more than 10 years ago. He might have got the captaincy by default but it feels like a good fit nonetheless
Fabio Capello's original reasons for not selecting Gerrard as captain when he picked John Terry in August 2008 was that he felt that the player did not project his personality enough when he was given an audition in the role against Switzerland. It is a charge commonly levelled against Gerrard – too much introspection, too troubled – but among the England players there is no one who commands as much respect.
It is a personal view that Capello never gave Gerrard a proper chance in the job. He has always been something of a man apart – he does, after all, come from an English city that considers itself a separate republic – but once he decides to open up there is no player who is more brutally honest.
Of all England's senior players, Gerrard is by far the most confident and erudite when it comes to talking about the big issues. When Steve McClaren was coming in for heavy criticism before the Euro 2008 qualifier away in Andorra in March 2007, Gerrard and Terry were both drummed up to show some solidarity for their manager. Terry was captain at the time but an outsider forced to identify which one was in charge would have picked Gerrard every time.
With his usual straight-to-the-point honesty Gerrard got to the heart of the issue immediately. "This is England. People are going to expect a lot. We have a big, big support. Playing for England is a privilege. We understand there is going to be a lot of pressure. This game is all about results. Our results have been unacceptable of late. We take the criticism on the chin and move on."
And as the Andorra game unfolded as something of a nightmare for McClaren – goalless at half-time and the fans calling for his head – it was Gerrard who got England out of a hole that night with two goals.
By his own admission, Gerrard has not always risen to the challenge. At Euro 2000, just 20 years old, he was frozen by homesickness. At Euro 2004 he was consumed with the question of whether he should leave Liverpool for Chelsea. The last World Cup finals were probably his best performance at a tournament for England but he will believe that he can do better. Wayne Rooney is the England team's marquee name but Gerrard is not far behind.
His relationship with Rafael Benitez was known to have deteriorated badly in the last two years and Liverpool's parting of the ways with their manager on Thursday will probably mean that a weight has been lifted from Gerrard. The question of whether he needs to go to Real Madrid to have one last hurrah has changed; with a new regime at his club comes some hope of a fresh start.
As for the England captaincy, it is nothing that a 30-year-old with 78 caps and a status as one of the best players in the world cannot handle. Sixteen years ago the Football Association rejected Gerrard for a place at their Lilleshall centre of excellence; as of yesterday he became their main man.
Fifa regulations allow countries to call up a replacement up to 24 hours before a side's opening match, which meant England could have waited until Friday evening to replace Rio Ferdinand. Replacements are not limited to players included in the initial 30-man squads named last month.
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