When Steven Gerrard led England out at Wembley for Friday night’s crucial World Cup qualifier with Montenegro, he achieved yet another milestone in the star's decorated career.
The game with Montenegro saw Gerrard move level on caps with legendary World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton on 106, placing him equal fourth in the all-time appearance makers for the national side.
At 33, the current campaign is likely to be Gerrard’s last in an England shirt. If England qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, it is expected their captain will bring the curtain down on his international career after the tournament.
The England career of one of the nation's most gifted players, dubbed from an early age as part of ‘The Golden Generation’ alongside the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and John Terry, has been one of both great achievement and frustration. The age-old conundrum of trying to fit both Gerrard and Chelsea counterpart Frank Lampard into the same midfield has seen his international form suffer. Like the mercurial Paul Scholes before him, Gerrard’s natural talent had seen him become a victim of his own versatility. Whilst Lampard has been a fantastic player and reliable source of goals for over a decade, one can’t help but imagine how the national side may have fared if Gerrard had been given the licence to change and win games as he has done on the biggest of stages for Liverpool.
There was the disappointment of missing the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, ruled out with a groin injury that blighted the early parts Gerrard’s career. The energy of the young midfielder could have been greatly used in the sapping heat of Far East Asia, where England were heartbreakingly knocked out of the competition by that Ronaldinho goal.
Both Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006 ended in penalty shoot-out heartbreak to Portugal, Gerrard missing his kick in the latter, whilst England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 all together during the ill-fated reign of manager Steve McLaren, a moment Gerrard described as his lowest in an England shirt.
Whilst the England career of Steven Gerrard has notable frustrations, lets not forget the fine achievements of the England skipper. His first England goal came in the famous 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, where the young Gerrard dominated the midfield. Whilst Euro 2012 may have ended in agony from the penalty spot once more, Gerrard captained his side in fine style, producing three assists and two man of the match performances as England topped their group. He was the only England player named in the team of the tournament.
Gerrard’s leadership of the national side can be commended; he has often chosen the right things to say at difficult times and led by example both on and off the pitch. On Friday, he patrolled the midfield alongside long-term partner Lampard with his usual aplomb, dictating the play from the deeper position he has inherited as his legs start to age. His steady leadership of the national side begs the question as to why it took so long for him to gain the captaincy on a permanent basis. Under both McLaren and Fabio Capello he was often the stand-in man, overlooked in favour of John Terry and even Rio Ferdinand. Despite performances of pure inspiration for his club side, he was never trusted with the permanent captaincy until Roy Hodgson’s appointment in 2012. Friday's clash saw Gerrard captain England for the 34th time, moving ahead of Kevin Keegan and level with both Terry and Alan Shearer, a fine achievement although it could have been many more. England are now on the brink of qualification, a win over Poland at Wembley on Tuesday will see Gerrard captain his country at a second, and possibly final World Cup.
England fans should enjoy their last few sightings of Steven Gerrard in an England shirt, undoubtedly one of the finest players this country has produced in this generation or any other. If the World Cup in Brazil is to be his farewell to the national fold, his career should be celebrated as one of immense achievement and rightly so. As a curtain comes down on an era in English football, on a personal level however I can’t help but wonder.
The Golden Generation, what might have been?
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