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Jul 242014
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Steven Gerrard’s decision to retire as England captain earlier this week has been met with a degree of acceptance, stoicism and generally good feeling by the vast majority. In a 114-cap career with the national team, third only to David Beckham (115 caps) and Peter Shilton (125 caps), Gerrard will be remembered as an outstanding servant to his country.

Sadly, it is fair to say that other than sporadic performances, the Liverpool player seldom reached the heights in his England career that he showed at club level. A fact that Gerrard readily admits himself.

To be fair to the Liverpool legend, it hasn’t been all his fault. Throughout his England career, Gerrard has often been forced to play out of position for the national team to accommodate the inclusion of other players in his preferred central midfield role, most notably in Euro 2004.

Perhaps his most regrettable time in an England shirt came at the end of the 2001/2002 season just, after playing a stunning role in England’s 5-1 demolition of Germany in Berlin, scoring a stunning goal just before half time to put England 2-1 up.

Having played a key role in helping England qualify and a certainty to make the squad and first team, the Liverpool man saw his hopes of playing in the 2002 World Cup finals ended when he pulled up with a groin injury in the final game of the league season against Ipswich. His presence was clearly missed as England’s best chances of winning the World Cup in a generation ended at the quarter finals stage.

He top scored for England at the 2006 World Cup although was one of the players who missed a crucial penalty in the shootout loss against Portugal. By the time the 2010 World Cup come around Gerrard had taken over as skipper after John Terry was stripped of the role due to off the field issues and Rio Ferdinand was forced to miss out through injury.

After Fabio Capello’s tenure was over with England Roy Hodgson had no hesitation naming Gerrard as his captain. Gerrard adopted a more withdrawn midfield role under Hodgson, similar to the new role he adopted at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers and it was in this role he made his last three appearances for his country, at the 2014 World Cup Finals.

Gerrard’s England career has had some real down sides too. In the 2004 European Championships, it was Gerrard’s poor back pass that allowed Thierry Henry to steal in and earn the penalty to draw France level. In addition to missing in the penalty shoot out against Portugal in 2006, he also played an inadvertent role in England losing out in the 2014 tournament when his misjudged header sent Luis Suarez through to fire Uruguay to victory and send England home after two games.

Sadly for Gerrard, unlike his Liverpool career, he has not enjoyed too many highpoints in an England shirt. Performances like England managed back in 2001 in Berlin against Germany have been few and far between.

So after 114-caps and a mixed career at international level, Gerrard has called it a day. It is not an unsurprising move given his age (34) and the fact that he still remains a key player at Liverpool. However this is one of those circumstances where the decision reached is a sensible one and to the benefit of all concerned.

For England, this gives Roy Hodgson a clean break with the last of the “Golden Generation” – that oft used misnomer for the Beckham, Scholes, Lampard, Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Owen and Gerrard era. The last vestiges of that generation have now been swept away and England can build towards a new future.

The chance is there for other England hopefuls like Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere to really stake a claim for a regular spot in the team. There is also the burning issue of who will be the next captain, although it seems extremely likely that Wayne Rooney will get the nod given his age, experience and standing within the squad.

For Roy Hodgson, there won’t be the problem that has faced him and a succession of England managers preceding him about how to get the best of Gerrard from within the team. It was a problem that no England manager ever really solved.

If you are a Liverpool fan, or Brendan Rodgers then the announcement is also welcome news to you. Your captain will now be resting on those frequent international breaks, or at least training with those not selected, rather than risking injury in qualifiers and friendlies. All of which take their toll on a 34-year-olds body.

That should hopefully mean less games asked of Gerrard, which in turn may make him more effective in the games he is asked to play in. Certainly with the squad Brendan Rodgers is building at Anfield now, the manager will have the option to rest the player in addition to his extra rest from not being involved with international duty.

Finally of course, the decision is the right one for Steven Gerrard. In his interviews about his England career, the Liverpool man has made it clear in no uncertain terms that he in no way views himself as an England legend. He himself has said he doesn’t feel he deserves that status. Perhaps potentially going on for two more years to Euro 2016 and in doing so, likely breaking both Beckham’s record for an outfield player and Shilton’s for all England players, may have been a factor too.

It also gives time for Gerrard to spend with his family, to develop his skills for life after he retires, though Brendan Rogers feels the Liverpool man could go on for several more years yet. This decision may help Gerrard fulfil his managers prophecy. Time will tell.

But within this is a candid and frank admission by the player that he recognises he isn’t the player he once was and that England need to move on without him. That’s pragmatic and to the benefit of all concerned.

Gerrard may not finish his England career as a true England legend, but in a way that doesn’t matter. Many Liverpool fans viewed his involvement with England as an inconvenience anyway. Gerrard never did, he conducted himself with integrity and professionalism befitting an England captain. Rather than focusing on what he could have brought to the England team if he had been allowed to realise his full potential at international level, we should be thankful for his contributions and celebrate what he did bring to the team.

John Fisher

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