Does Jamie Carragher have a point?

England's Steven Gerrard & Wayne RooneyEngland captain Steven Gerrard has leapt to the defence of his International team mate Wayne Rooney after the striker was criticised for his below par performances at Euro 2012. The Manchester United forward was expected to be revitalised upon his return after missing the first two matches through suspension but instead looked lethargic and out of touch, leading some to question his commitment to the national team.

While Gerrard diplomatically insists it’s a team game, he accepts there’s far too much pressure heaped on the player and to have such focus placed on one man is never good for the side. He believes the forward is a victim of his own success but Rooney is considered to be the team’s talisman so do critics have genuine cause for concern given England’s increasingly poor efforts at tournaments?

After all Rooney has failed to impress at a major tournament since 2004 and England haven’t got past the quarterfinals since 1996. Clearly there have been major weaknesses in the squad that transcend one player but excuses such as fatigue, disharmony, injuries and suspensions have all been frequently recycled without ever being proven. Fans have debated which defining quality the English have lacked for years but Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told BBC Radio 5 live he believes it’s the fear of failure that has become too much to handle when representing the national side.

“One mistake and you could be absolutely slaughtered. At your club, you know you will not be criticised as much and perhaps three days later there will be another game.

“With England, it could be months before you have another fixture. There is a fear at times when playing for England.”

Carragher would appear to have a point given the increasing demands placed on England every time they enter a major tournament. This year’s trip to Poland and Ukraine was the first time the team wasn’t tipped to challenge for the trophy and even though expectations have normally been fairly unrealistic during the ‘Golden Generation’, the players were always deemed capable of challenging the very best. This has led to unwarranted disappointment every time England’s supposedly talented group fail to match the World’s top sides but instead of criticising certain star performers like Rooney, Gerrard believes the team as a whole must take responsibility.

“At this level one of the biggest things is playing without expectation or fear.

“The responsibility has got to be on all 23 players. It’s unfair to look at Wayne and say because he never played well, he’s the reason why we don’t do well at these tournaments.”

As the leader of the side Gerrard must chose his words carefully to maintain squad harmony but despite hitting the nail on the head regarding football being a team game, Rooney has still let down the side in his last two major competitions. The pressure of being the team’s focal point may add a certain weight to his game but they’re excuses that wouldn’t wash at Old Trafford and if Rooney fails to replicate his domestic form at International level then it’s understandable the critics’ knives would be out in force. While some criticism is justified considering the manner of his performances, this time around both the media and the fans were less hopeful and more pragmatic about the side’s chances as they accepted merely qualifying out of a tough group would be an achievement. If the nation expect less of the team than in previous years perhaps it’s unfair to single out Rooney when many others also failed to reach their own high standards. Rooney needs help from the other ten players on the pitch and Carragher insists England’s failings stem more from tactical naivety.

“England have no chance of winning the World Cup in Brazil, if you ask me.

“Playing too deep, giving the ball away, those sort of things catch up with you in the end.”

Few would deny the critics are right to point the finger at England’s defensive tactics and their underwhelming exit to the Italians but clearly it’s wrong to isolate Rooney. The entire side looked tired, not just the former Everton striker, and while he’s meant to lead by example as one of the better players, fans can’t expect to him to win every game singlehanded. Ultimately the jury is still out because England failed at another major tournament but Gerrard has every right to defend his team. The nation always looks for a scapegoat when things go wrong and Liverpool skipper knows it won’t stop the players picking themselves up and starting again.

“Should we give up? Should we not go because of what Jamie Carragher said?

“Everyone is down, everyone’s sad and there is doom and gloom about, but we will keep working and bounce back. Hopefully, we’ll put it right.”

Unfortunately it is more hope than expectation but if England are to challenge for silverware then the best players in the team must not only play well but also be supported by the rest of the side. Football is a team game and regardless of how many talented individuals the nation possesses, the English team is still not good enough when working together.

Is Carragher right to attack the England set-up? Should Gerrard be defending his team mates when results aren’t going their way?

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