Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Steven Gerrard has been left with a degree of regret

Getting shirty: Steven Gerrard poses as he wins the 100th of his eventual 114 caps for England

For Steven Gerrard, being the kind of person he is, there will always be a sense of regret when thoughts stray back to his games for England.

The man who yesterday announced his international retirement – prompting a problematic search which leaves no obvious successor – has been one of the nation's great football servants: 114 caps and more captaincies than any other Englishman bar Bobby Moore, Billy Wright, Bryan Robson and David Beckham.

However, the accomplishments of a 14-year international career came in the teeth of all the obstacles that England seemed to put before him.

Certainly, the sunset of those years brought recognition at last and the captaincy from Roy Hodgson – a manager for whom Gerrard has a genuinely deep respect. But every step of the way seemed to be a battle.

Gerrard was never given the attacking midfield role for England which he had reason to believe was his inheritance when Paul Scholes walked away in 2004, and was twice overlooked as captain by Fabio Capello.

There were no histrionics from him, because Steve Heighway and Hugh McAuley, the men who brought Gerrard through the Liverpool youth ranks, always instilled humility. But a player with Gerrard's gifts could have expected more of England.

That Gerrard humility was always there with England. He was a long way from future England Captain stock on his first call-up in 2000, which left him so nervous that he nearly turned around the Honda his father had loaned him.

Having finally made it down the M1, he had to call Jamie Redknapp from his room to ask for company on his anxious first walk into the team dining room.

Some of the insecurity had its roots in the way he he had was been overlooked for a place at the Football Association's Lilleshall academy and he always believed his progress through the ranks was stymied by Les Reed, FA technical director between 2002 and 2004.

In fact Gerrard felt that the response of Reed and fellow coach Derek Fazackerley to the homesickness he felt during the 2000 European Championships in the Netherlands and Belgium was reprehensible.

"They didn't understand that not everyone can board a plane, settle in a strange hotel far from the family they love and find it easy," he wrote in his autobiography.

He put all that behind him with a contribution on a chilly night in Munich on September 1, 2001.

It was on his sixth appearance for England that he scored their deeply significant second goal and set up Michael Owen for his hat-trick. His passing was second to none in that 5-1 qualifying win over Germany.

Injury deprived him of a place at the following year's World Cup but his contribution at Euro 2004 was also acclaimed and he scored more goals at the 2006 World Cup than any other Englishman.

However, Frank Lampard was the road block to him becoming the kind of marauding player we saw at Anfield, while Capello was deeply unwilling to make him captain.

If he had carried on to Euro 2016, Gerrard would almost certainly have become England's most-capped player, but instead his last meaningful game brought the mistake that let Uruguay's Luis Suarez through on goal in Sao Paulo.

Not a pristine display, certainly, but a better one than he was credited for, with Paris Saint-Germain ace Edinson Cavani billeted to mark him out of the game and Hodgson doing him few favours by asking him to anchor a stretched team.

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