England’s ignominious exit from the World Cup group stage with a game left to play has raised a number of questions surrounding the personnel of the national setup in the last few days. None of these questions have been more prevalent than those regarding the future of the England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
The 113-capped man announced that he has yet to make a decision on his future as an England international, and will return home before making the choice on what he intends to do. Much of the fallout of England’s World Cup departure have heard dissenting voices calling for Gerrard to hand over his England armband and step away from the international setup, largely on the basis of two inadequate performances in Brazil.
Snap decisions aren’t always associated with the most prudent of thought processes, and the belief that Gerrard should absolve himself of international duties off the back of two poor performances feel emotionally-charged and ill-thought. Something which has been massively overlooked in the wealth of the anti-Gerrard backlash is the impact he still has had for Liverpool all season.
The new role he has assumed at club and country, as a deeper-lying midfield general, winning back possession and distributing the ball to his more attacking-minded teammates. Whilst excelling in this new position, it is not only aiding the progression of Brendan Rodgers’ project at the club, it is also prolonging his career in allowing himself to limit the amount of high-risk, high-intensity sprints he makes per game.
Granted, the Liverpool skipper didn’t perform his duties to the best of his abilities in Brazil. Whether it was down to fitness, conditions, age, or whatever else, Gerrard was one of many players who simply didn’t live up to the billing given to them in the build-up. His performances didn’t echo those of Liverpool last season, and they certainly didn’t resemble those of Euro 2012 which saw him inducted into the team of the tournament two years back.
While Gerrard was largely outshone by his Liverpool midfield partner, Jordan Henderson, in Brazil there simply remains no viable replacement to fill the void that his absence would leave. The sycophantic love-in that the English media has with Italian midfield maestro, Andrea Pirlo, and the clamour for an English alternative has been overwhelming this summer. Gerrard is, quite simply, the English player most suited to fulfilling the deep-lying creative role similar to that of Pirlo. His range of passing is incredible, his vision is unparalleled by an Englishman – barring possibly Wayne Rooney – and he has the tactical presence in midfield to dictate the tempo of a game.
While everyone looks for a scapegoat, or a smoking gun for England’s woes in Brazil, nobody of the current English crop can provide what Gerrard does. Of Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, none of them are suited to playing a more withdrawn role in the side. Whilst each of them are comfortable playing centrally, their individual qualities would be seriously restricted if required to play in a deeper-lying position, akin to that of Gerrard.
The need to find ‘balance’ seems to be the buzzword of the past few days of analysis, and without Gerrard there, the England midfield lacks just that. A combination of Henderson and Wilshere, or Wilshere and Chamberlain, or any of the above combined, could see the vital space in front of England’s already shaky defence left seriously neglected. Whilst the likes of Wilshere and Henderson provide a great deal of promise going forwards, looking to cut between the opposition lines of defence, they aren’t naturally the type of players to sit and hold in front of a back four. They lack the discipline, vision, and technique in passing to do such a job.
Whilst their progression into star names in the England setup require more trust and game time, they also need the guidance of older, more experienced heads in and around the squad to keep them grounded. There are none more suitable than Gerrard at carrying out such duties.
In order to prove their readiness for a starring role on the international stage, Wilshere, Barkley and co. need to continue performing at club level, rather than being shunted into the spotlight, ill-prepared and under-equipped.
Gerrard wasn’t nominated for PFA Player of the Year award, and inducted into the Team of the Year because he is past his sell-by date. While he is still fit enough and motivated enough to continue, he must do so. There is no feasible replacement for him in the England side right now, and until somebody proves themselves capable of assuming his role in the side, he simply cannot be sent to the discard pile.