The England vice-captain Steven Gerrard reinforced David Beckham's place in the international wilderness last night when he admitted that he had felt liberated in the victory over Greece and had rediscovered a zest for international football that had been lost under Sven Goran Eriksson.
The Liverpool midfielder did not inherit the captain's armband from Beckham but, having taken his place on the right of the England midfield, the 26-year-old produced a performance against the European champions that was more in keeping with his club form as Steve McClaren's reign as manager commenced without complaint.
Though Gerrard was quick to give the Manchester United transfer target Owen Hargreaves the credit for restoring balance in England's fluent midfield display at Old Trafford, his contribution indicated there will be no way back for Beckham, whom McClaren has excluded from his England plans, if the fine team performance is maintained in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.
"I know what people are going to say about me playing on the right, but I'm Steven Gerrard, not David Beckham," he said. "I am a lot different from him, but it does feel natural for me out there because I have played there so much for Liverpool. It's not alien to me, I know the movements and it is just great to be able to get forward. That was the first time in a long time I have really enjoyed myself out there."
McClaren sought advice from the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, on how to coax the best from Gerrard, and the midfielder admits he relished his new role, having been one victim of the tactical restraints presented by Eriksson, who did not send his successor and former assistant any goodwill message before the game.
"The manager pulled me a few days ago and said he wanted me to start doing for England what I've been doing for Liverpool, that he wanted me to get forward, play with freedom and not to be scared to try things," Gerrard said. "To be honest, I loved it. That's me; getting forward, breaking forward and being free. I really enjoyed it."
The England manager was true to his word in fielding a team against Greece in which each player was handed the position they usually play at club level, another departure from the Eriksson era. Gerrard added: "It's important we bring our club form into these internationals and start playing like a team. We have been guilty in the past of playing too individually and it hasn't worked out. Against Greece you saw a good team performance from start to finish. We passed the ball well, played at a high tempo and now we have set a standard we need to maintain for the future."Reuse content