For years England debated how to use Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team. They were played alongside each other in central midfield (to minimal effect), Gerrard was played wide on the left under Fabio Capello and has even found himself up front.
Unfortunately for Gerrard, and Lampard too, is that these two world-class midfielders looked likely to leave this debate as their only legacy at international level. Having hit the summit of world football at Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, their England careers have flattered to deceive.
But now, Gerrard has a chance to create a far more positive England legacy. Having been handed the captaincy by Roy Hodgson, as well as his favoured central midfield position, crucially alongside tough-tackling, defensive stalwart Scott Parker, Gerrard has been England’s stand-out performer at Euro 2012. Gerrard has led a rejuvenated England from the front, both on and off the pitch, with the result being that the nation finally has the Liverpool player they have watched week in, week out inspire his club side.
Castigating Gerrard for his disappointing international career can be all too easy though. The player himself admits he hasn’t fulfilled his potential on the international stage but it’s not as straight-forward as simply underperforming. The 32-year-old epitomises the Golden Generation of England, where supposed world-class talents were so exposed for their country, but there is no doubting Gerrard’s ability and standing as a world-class midfield operator. Just ask Daniele De Rossi or Claudio Marchisio who have heaped praise on their opposite number for tonight’s game, labelling him their “idol,”
Through all of England’s Golden Generation, the long-standing problem seemed to be trying to fit the country’s best players into the same team. It simply wasn’t possible and sacrifices were made – one being Gerrard. One wonders what the Liverpudlian could have achieved with England had the side been focused around him, or at least playing to his strengths. Indeed, it is a shame that his age seems to have worked in his favour. Now 32, Hodgson has used him in a more declined role and given him more responsibility as an all-round midfielder, whilst also installing the tactical discipline needed.
He has more responsibility in this England setup than ever before. He attacks, defends, goes left, goes right – he is involved in so much and that can only be good for England. His three assists prove he has picked his moments to get forward well and also that his quality certainly isn’t on the wane despite injury issues last season. Gerrard’s age has also matured his game. When sitting deeper before, he always seemed tempted to try Hollywood balls when better options were available. He has been far shrewder in possession this tournament.
Now Gerrard has the chance to do what few Englishman have achieved – lead his country into the semi-finals of a major tournament. If he continues in his current vein of form, he may well consign the Gerrard-Lampard debate to the dustbin and be remembered as the inspirational captain that led England to tournament success.
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