Steven Gerrard: 'Don't call me a hero or legend'

A century of caps, skipper for club and country, universally admired, but he remains his own harshest critic

When Steven Gerrard was called up to his first England squad in February 2000, he borrowed his dad's Honda to drive from Liverpool to Burnham Beeches. While there Martin Keown took pity on the lonely teenager and took him shopping. On the occasion of his first cap, three months later, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman trashed his hotel room to the extent that Gerrard had to make a discreet trip to the kit room to get some dry clothes.

It is all a far cry from the elder statesman of the English game now, 99 caps down the road, captain and, tonight in Stockholm, about to become only the sixth England centurion in 149 years of the history of the Football Association. He is, by any measure, a major figure in modern English football, and whatever the conflicting views on his career, his place in history is assured.

Steven Gerrard: A career in pictures

In the crucible of the contemporary game – its riches, its pitfalls, the scrutiny and the unending expectation –Gerrard has survived and thrived. He has not won everything in the club game, but he is not alone there. He has not won a trophy with England. Few do. But at 32, and for all the fame and adulation, he remains true to his 19-year-old self driving south in a borrowed car, in love with the game and desperately eager to do well.

At the team hotel in Manchester this week, he discussed his England career with the usual disarming frankness. How about this when asked about joining Sir Bobby Charlton and the late Bobby Moore, the only centurions to have won a World Cup? "They will always be heroes of mine and heroes of the English public," Gerrard said. "In football, the hero and legend status is given out far too easily for me. As far as playing for England goes, there are 11 heroes [in 1966], the rest haven't really delivered, for me."

Get Adobe Flash player

That is the thing about Gerrard. Think of the most severe criticism you could muster about the England team or their current captain and Gerrard has already confronted it, often with the kind of bluntness few could manage. Asked what rating he would give out of 10 for his own England career, he shot back "six, maybe seven".

He launched his international career on a warm May night against Ukraine at the old Wembley 12 years ago. Since 2001 he has, when fit, been an automatic first choice. He has been part of England teams eliminated from tournaments on penalties on three occasions – 2004, 2006 and this summer – and he knows what it is to miss from the spot.

A member of the so-called "golden generation", albeit a man who never fails to say how much he dislikes the label, Gerrard is the best-placed to articulate the condition of the modern England footballer. He says that even as captain of Liverpool, and with all that club's longing for a new dawn, playing for England is still the biggest thing he does.

"Pressure-wise, yeah it is," he said. "Also because when you are at your club you are there every day. Your team-mates become super close. You are working on tactics every single day. The routine of how your team plays gets drilled into you all the time. Your fans see you every week so they know what you're about. You have a bad game, you have the next game to put it right.

"With England, you play seven or eight games a year and you are coming into a group you are not used to playing with. There is a lot more coverage and a lot more people watching and with all due respect to you guys [the press] it's a hard crowd.

"Playing for England's a tough gig. If you've not got a good result then playing for your club helps you put it to the back of your mind but ideally you would go and play for England again. You want to straighten your performance out for England. Maybe you have to wait a couple of months which is not ideal."

On taking penalties in shoot-outs for England, Gerrard, who missed against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup finals, was unequivocal. He says it is like nothing else.

"Taking a penalty for England in a tournament is a million times more difficult than a penalty in a normal game, in a normal situation. That's how I would describe it, the nerves and how your body feels when you're about to take a penalty in a tournament. There's a lot more pressure than a normal penalty which is a very pressurised situation as well.

"The new players haven't experienced the disappointment that I have. It's three times for me and I don't think any other international player would have experienced that."

But for all the memories of the near misses and what might have been, tonight, and the friendly against Brazil at Wembley in February, will be a time to celebrate Gerrard's international career. Before we urge the last few members of his generation into retirement it would be worth remembering that here is a player with a global reputation. How many of the next generation will be able to say the same at the end of their careers?

"There is a lot more coverage than when I started," Gerrard said. "The social media, a lot more cameras, a lot more opinions, a lot more TV channels covering the game. It's even bigger than when I came in. It's a lot more difficult for the young lads. Some of them won't be able to cope. That's fact. Not everyone who plays at this level will go on to be top international players. That's just the way it is. Some will find it too hard, some won't be good enough. Some won't work hard enough for it."

He came from a different generation where there were no lucrative professional deals for unproven teenagers. Just the usual hard-knocks, including a rejection, aged 15, from the FA's elite football programme at Lilleshall that, amusingly, he still stews over. When Gerrard made his England debut, Tony Adams was still in the habit of going round the dressing room shouting "Are you f***ing up for this?" into the faces of his team-mates. Times have changed.

"To be here on the eve of 100 caps is an unbelievable achievement for myself and my family," Gerrard said. "It's difficult to put into words because when I speak about it the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Some of the players I've played with have not got to that milestone. There's been great players before me and ones I've played with who haven't done it. It's a very flattering achievement."

* The FA and Vauxhall have announced a new annual awards dinner with player of the year awards for all 24 teams including the senior men and women, all youth levels and disability. The first will be held at St George's Park on 3 February.

Gerrard for England

Best moment

5-1 v Germany in Munich, Sept 2001. "I think so because of who it was against and because of how emphatic the result was in their backyard and it being a World Cup qualifier. It's difficult to beat that."

Best three goals for England

Germany (Munich, September 2001); Macedonia (Southampton, October 2002); Hungary (Wembley, August 2010)

England team-mate he rates the highest

Paul Scholes. "His game is very similar to mine and I appreciate what he has got. I like him as a person and what he's done at United as well."

International opponent he considers the best

Zinedine Zidane. "Magical feet. Feet like hands. Special."

Worst performance

Greece, October 2001. "That was a disappointing individual performance. That game was on the back of me being out a bit late past bedtime so that's a bad memory."

Would you like to manage England?

"Of course. Before you go into management you get your badges and you have your own belief in your knowledge of the game. But it doesn't automatically mean that you will be able to manage."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy