Gerrard happy to embrace new era of pragmatism
Tuesday 05 February 2008
New era, a fresh start, an air of excitement. All the usual phrases were in place yesterday as England's players were asked their immediate impressions, after just one evening together and one training session, of the Capello regime. But one comment, made by Steven Gerrard and referring to the England head coach's maiden address to his squad on Sunday night, as they met at the five-star seclusion of the Grove Hotel on the outskirts of Watford, stood out. "He never once mentioned individuals," Gerrard said. "It was all about the team winning. He wants to instill a winning team."
Such was the stress that Capello placed on the collective – and its success – that Gerrard added: "When you look at someone in the eye in team meetings you get a feel straight away. That was probably the third word out of his mouth: winning [football matches]. He lets us know what he wanted from us. He has a certain aura. All top managers have that. I'd certainly put him in that category. He has an aura when he walks in a room, and those are type of managers you want to play for."
Stirring stuff even if, as Capello himself would be the first to declare, results and only results will define the success of his tenure and approach. The only column inches that matter will not be the headlines he or his players grab over the next couple of years but the ones into which the number of points are allotted come the end of World Cup qualification.
But it's an end to the man running the England team referring to his players as "JT" (John Terry), "Becks" or "Stevie G". Gerrard had no problem being referred to by his surname. "I don't think it is about enjoying yourself with the manager off the pitch; it's all about seriousness and getting results in an England shirt," Gerrard said. "That's the most important thing."
The aim of the policy is clear. It's about toughening up and creating a different, harder belief. "The mental approach can be instilled by the coaching staff," Gerrard added in a clear indication that it has been lacking. "It's important to have a winning mentality before you go out on to the pitch."
A manager keeping a distance, as Capello undoubtedly does, is something that Gerrard has experienced at Liverpool. "I'm used to that with Rafa," he said of the Benitez approach. "As long as there is a respect there between the England manager and the players, I don't really think it's important." Similarly Capello's custom of not revealing his team until close to kick-off. "I'm used to that as well," the midfielder added although it was not said with a sense of approval. Does it create anxiety? "Yes, it does," he said. "I've experienced it most games with Liverpool. The manager picks the team an hour-and-a-half before kick-off so if Fabio decides to do that I will be well prepared for it."
It is unlikely Capello will approve of one of his players referring to him by his first name although it probably will not stop him from naming Gerrard as his captain for tomorrow's friendly against Switzerland. He said it would be "nice and a proud feeling" to do so but felt uncomfortable about putting his name "forward" in John Terry's absence. However after being told Capello will not decide on who will be his permanent captain until the qualifiers start in September, Gerrard added: "Players will have the time to prove to their manager that they are worthy of being captain."
And, of course, worthy of inclusion in the team. "The players are kept on their toes by him," Gerrard said. "Every player knows that no one can take his place for granted. He has left the door open for all young players, and experienced players, and he let us know that he wants players to show him they are worthy of a starting place.
"There is certainly excitement about the new manager in charge; he's got a wonderful CV, wherever he has been he's been successful. So as a player you think 'can he make these good players we have got into a winning team?' I'm very confident. The players are there. Hopefully the manager can make us difficult to beat, and exciting going forward and getting successful results."
There will, undoubtedly, be a tactical switch as Capello attempts to create that new "mentality". "He said we need to be better defensively and going forward," Gerrard explained and the priority will probably be in that order. "If I went on to achieve something with England with a team which was a bit more defensive and won football matches I'd take that. As players you want to win so whatever it takes you do it. I've seen teams throughout my career who are very good to watch and exciting but they don't win. I'd certainly rather play in a team which is more difficult to beat but maybe not as good on the eye."
For Gerrard, and England, such pragmatism is born of bitter experience and a little desperation. "You look at our results in not qualifying for the Euros and there are a lot of things that need changing," he said. "We should have won that group comfortably. I'm 28 in the summer and you think to yourself that with the chances of winning something and being in a successful team you are running out of time.
"I want to make the most of it over the next four to six years, to look back on my England career and think 'yes I played in a successful team'. Because, so far, I've played in good teams, but those teams have been knocked out in the last eight or, of late, have failed to qualify."
In the beginning: England managers' first matches
* Walter Winterbottom: 28 Sept 1946. Northern Ireland (a) Won 7-2
* Alf Ramsey: 27 Feb 1963 France (a) Lost 5-2
* Don Revie 30 Oct 1974 Czechoslovakia (h) Won 3-0
* Ron Greenwood: 7 Sept 1977. Switzerland (h) Drew 0-0
* Bobby Robson: 22 Sept 1982. Denmark (a) Drew 2-2
* Graham Taylor: 12 Sept 1990. Hungary (h) Won 1-0
* Terry Venables: 9 Mar 1994. Denmark (h) Won 1-0
* Glenn Hoddle: 1 Sept 1996. Moldova (a) Won 3-0
* Kevin Keegan: 27 Mar 1999. Poland (h) Won 3-1
* Sven Goran Eriksson: 28 Feb 2001. Spain (h) Won 3-0
* Steve McClaren: 16 August 2006 Greece (h) Won 4-0
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