Gerrard revels in landing role as full-time leader

Each time the Liverpool captain has led his country out before it has been in a stand-in capacity – now, as Roy Hodgson's choice, he is more than ready for the full responsibility

Oslo

It is 25 years, give or take, since he tore through Huyton's Bluebell estate in his Gazza England shirt and "stuck the ball between two dustbins", as he once remembered it, but here, at long last, was the moment that Steven Gerrard says he had recently given up on. "I'm sitting here as England captain," he said, in an Oslo press conference last night as if he needed to try on the title for size.

He has carried that small piece of black cloth 12 times since March 2004, when he deputised for an injured David Beckham in Gothenburg, and only 13 Englishmen have taken it more often, though he has been the caretaker so often that when Stuart Pearce, as caretaker manager, called him to say that Scott Parker was his man in February, it cut Gerrard more deeply than many knew.

"He said I wasn't going to be captain; I said, 'OK.' And I was disappointed," Gerrard related and it was to the suggestion that the courtesy of a phone call might have helped that the magnitude of Pearce's decision became clear. "It's not easy for me when you're told," Gerrard said. "He just said he wanted to go with someone else, Scott Parker." Did he think that was that for his chances to be permanent national captain? "Exactly."

Gerrard's indignation was not unreasonable, because it's not as if he had just been minding the shop. He took over, with Rio Ferdinand injured, in the aftermath of a first demotion which John Terry never came to terms with. He led the side through the South Africa World Cup amid the chaos created by Terry, who for some reason believed the captaincy was his entitlement when Ferdinand's pre-World Cup knee injury had taken him home. He stood up and answered for England's failings after the defeat to Germany in Bloemfontein. And, when back at the helm again in Basle, in September 2010, he marshalled an England who had arrived under the unyielding glare of tabloid speculation surrounding Wayne Rooney.

When it was memorably put to Gerrard on that occasion in Switzerland that he had cleaned out a fair few stables for England, he offered a smile and countered: "This is the last time you'll see me here. Enjoy it while I'm here." There seemed to be a hint of loss in the Liverpudlian's voice that night and only last night did we learn how much he wanted this. "Fabio Capello always had belief in me as a player but it was clear he didn't have total belief for me to be the official captain," said Gerrard, who was passed over after the Italian initially tried out him, Terry and Ferdinand. "It feels like the first time I've been official captain. All the other times, I've known the armband was going to go back, either after the tournament or individual games."

He did not seem like Future England Captain stock on his first call-up in 2000 – which left him so nervous that he nearly turned around the Honda his dad had loaned him for the occasion and, having finally made it down the M1, had to call Jamie Redknapp from his room to ask for company on his anxious first walk into the dining room at the Burnham Beeches Hotel.

But as James Milner put it in a discussion of Gerrard's captaincy a few years ago: "Not everyone has to be a shouter." And though Ferdinand certainly is the more conventional captain – the Tony Adams to Gerrard's Bobby Moore – we all know the respective successes of those two at the international tournaments.

Gerrard is the one who can most empathise with and understand those among the new generation in this squad who now nurse anxieties because he knows what England struggles feel like. His ejection by the Football Association's Lilleshall academy is one instance, though he also tells of how he "battered" a Lilleshall XI which played the Liverpool academy seven months after he was overlooked. "I smashed Lilleshall's midfield to pieces, absolutely shredded them," Gerrard said years later. "Into every tackle I poured all my frustration at being ignored." A story, you feel, for behind closed doors at the Grove Hotel, the modern equivalent of Burnham Beeches, when Roy Hodgson's squad is reassembled there next Tuesday morning.

You feel he has the emotional range to deal with the effect on the squad of that unmistakable sense – after South Africa, Capello's abrupt departure and the general flux – that this England side is not up to much. "Maybe there is a bit of doubt about at the moment, a bit of a lack of belief in this group of players," he said. "I've heard whispers about people saying this is the weakest group we've had a for long time with England. But we have a chance to prove this is a good team, and to get a bit of belief and confidence into the public."

This was a significant statement. And it is also Gerrard to whom we most often turn in order to understand Rooney, to whom he is as an older brother; the minder, if you like.

All will be to the benefit of Hodgson, though the new manager will know that, since the depth of their own mutual relationship and understanding is also becoming clear.

Hodgson's name is anathema with most Liverpool fans but Gerrard offered a candid appraisal of how supporters do not always view things objectively. "He was unpopular with Liverpool fans, but he's not unpopular with me," Gerrard said. "You have to understand the situation at Liverpool. When the job became available, the majority of Liverpool fans wanted their hero, a legend, in charge. And when you then get off to a slow start... He just took the job at the wrong time. My opinion on that hasn't changed."

For a man whose 16th game as England captain will tonight deliver "something I've always dreamed of", Gerrard was markedly withdrawn and quiet last night, even by his own standards of modesty. Behind that deeply furrowed brow, perhaps he knows that permanency about the captaincy arrives with doubts.

He has been beset with injury problems, for instance, which restricted him to 34 minutes of international football in the last 19 months. He is also too introspective an individual to wonder whether England really can confound those "whispers".

The match against France in Donetsk on 11 June will take him back in his mind to 13 June 2004 and the same opposition in Lisbon's Stadium of Light as England kicked off what was to be their last European Championship campaign. Gerrard has always remembered the moment the France team-sheet was pinned up on the wall in the England dressing room and how, as he and Michael Owen looked at it, he was briefly overwhelmed by the challenge ahead. Then he looked around him. Rooney was there, cracking a ball against the dressing-room wall, again and again and again. David Beckham loomed into view, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell. "I said out loud: 'I'm not fucking having this. Let's show everyone what we can do'," Gerrard has recalled. "We had Michael [Owen]. We had Wayne. Wayne! I looked across at him. Not a care in the world."

Reading back that story of Gerrard's, it has been hard not to be struck by how different things feel now. There is initially no Rooney, and no Jack Wilshere, another of those few players who can afford to face the French with utter fearlessness. Eight of the starting XI from Bloemfontein are back again, supplemented by some untested youth.

The sense of a monumental challenge ahead of him is not new, though. How could it be for a player who lifted the Champions League trophy on a memorable night in Istanbul on 25 May 2005? "[This is] exactly the same," he said. "It goes to show in these tournaments, when you know you're not the favourites and there are other top sides about, you need to battle hard and go where it hurts to get the prizes. I don't think I've ever won a big trophy and it's all been pretty and nice."

Yes. He is the man for this position. He wears his title well.

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit