“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” So says, Kevin Spacey in the Usual Suspects as he tells his interrogators about a certain master criminal. While Verbal Kint may be speaking about the mysterious Keyzer Sozer, he could well have been talking about Steven Gerrard if he simply replaced the word “devil” with “former England skipper” and the words “didn’t exist” with “was a true international force.” The past few days since Gerrard announced his retirement from the national side has seen articles and comments ranging from the honest- “underachieved” to the erroneous -“England legend” to the downright ridiculous- “greatest England midfielder.”
Gerrard’s retirement from the international stage wasn’t met with the disappointment one would expect from a true great of world football calling time on representing his country, but more with a huge sense of relief that one of the biggest underachievers in international football was finally making the decision, his manager didn’t have the bottle to. Gerrard may be an Anfield great, he may have delivered countless goals and numerous trophies to the Red half of Merseyside- although one has slipped through his grasp- but when it comes to England, the Liverpool skipper has done the square route of sod all for far too long and somewhat bizarrely convinced the world he’s been a great success.
The worst part of the past few days has not been just the re-writing of history when it comes to Gerrard and England, but the complete nonsense spouted by many former Anfield affiliates who seem determined to outdo one another in the hyperbole stakes. Take Michael Owen- off a public forum preferably- who claimed that Gerrard was “the greatest player of his generation, other than Zinedine Zidane.” Now, admittedly as a United fan, the idea that Steven Gerrard is a better player than Paul Scholes is preposterous, but I can at the very least understand why some less knowledgable souls would engage in a debate over the matter. Why anyone would honestly claim that Gerrard is also better than the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Yaya Toure and Andrea Pirlo is beyond me. In fact it’s beyond the realms of wisdom to honestly state a player who’s never been able to drag his side to a league title, is somehow the greatest midfielder of the past twenty years, barring the all conquering former skipper of France.
Not to be out done- or out ‘scoused’ Owen’s comments aren’t even the worst- although they’re up there, Jamie Redknapp had this plethora of p**s to share with the readers of the Daily Mail- “Steven Gerrard was the best English midfielder since Paul Gascoigne…It didn’t help that so many England managers failed to use him properly….Gerrard has been a fantastic servant for England and his talents deserved a place in the semis or a final but, like so many players of his generation, we never made the best of them.”
So many England manager’s failed to use him properly during his 114 cap international career? Redknapp cites Gerrard being shifted out to the left wing on occasion – funnily enough a reason his supporters claim Scholes wasn’t his equal given Sven Goran Eriksson’s idiotic use of the Ginger Prince in 2004. It’s not the England managers’ fault that Gerrard has consistently failed in the white of our nation’s colours. Look at the aforementioned 2004 competition, Gerrard played a peach of a pass to a certain Thierry Henry- who was pulled down by David James gifting the only midfielder of the past twenty years better than Stevie G the chance to convert a spot kick which Zidane of course duly did. Speaking of spot kicks, Gerrard couldn’t manage to convert his as England crashed out of the World Cup two years later against Portugal, yet rather than receive any blame, the media focused not on the Liverpool man’s inability to score from 12 yards, but on the temerity of Cristiano Ronaldo who winked when Wayne Rooney was rightly sent off. Redknapp claims Gerrard deserved a place in the semis or a final- those that deserve it tend to get there- especially after six major tournaments. In fact in 2008 Gerrard couldn’t even inspire the side to making the actual tournament- despite being surrounded by many players who made up the two sides contesting that season’s Champions League final.
All this may sound like Gerrard- bashing- mainly because in all honesty it is- but let me make one thing clear, yes I may be a United fan and no I don’t really like any Liverpool players- but I do support England and want them to succeed. I wanted Gerrard to be a winning skipper in South Africa, especially when I was sat in the stadium in Bloemfontein when he faced Germany. Unfortunately Gerrard, like many others for England didn’t deliver that day, but the likes of a less than fit Gareth Barry or a anonymous Wayne Rooney, aren’t being discussed, Gerrard is and he was awful. The ‘goal that never was’ which elevated Frank Lampard above mediocrity that day, again saved Gerrard the media criticism he deserved as the focus stupidly turned to the referee- not the outclassed national side- or it’s skipper.
Since then we’ve seen Gerrard’s supporters’ point to his performances in Euro 2012 as proof of his excellence for England. During that glorious run all the way to the quarter finals. A run which saw a draw against a France side who managed one win during the tournament and wins against the mighty Sweden- who would finish bottom of the group and the awesome Ukrainian team. In fact the Ukraine team is that great I ask you to name any of its midfielders that featured that day- without looking it up on Google. One midfielder who everyone knows is the one who bossed the game when England faced Italy. A certain Mr Pirlo. Gerrard could only watch and admire as the little genius helped his side to victory-funnily enough this time it was the missing penalty takers who were blamed unlike in 2004, not the hapless skipper who was supposed to be one of the best midfielders on the planet and more or less at his peak.
I’d love to give you a full analysis of Gerrard’s performances in Brazil 2014 but the truth is I can’t remember much about them. I do recall him being bullied off the ball by his Liverpool team mate when England faced Uruguay and again seeing Pirlo help orchestrate a win for the Italians. Oh tell a lie I remember Gerrard charging down a shot against the South Americans, that led to a corner. As the England defence was in disarray Gerrard turned to them and ‘celebrated’ his block with a fist pumping “come on!” No organising the defence or words of advice, or instilling some calm to the players as they faced the resultant Uruguayan set piece, simply bluster and meaningless shouting from the most experienced England player on the pitch.
Sir Alex Ferguson was laughed at for saying Gerrard wasn’t a top, top player, but one could see his point, when you look at the very top level of international midfielders and what they’ve won and achieved. All the very best have at the very least won a league title, many have taken their national sides to the last two rounds of a major tournament and few if any have had as many bites of the international cherry as Gerrard has. People cite his 114 caps as evidence of Gerrard’s legendary status, yet how many of those caps saw a great performance against real top class opposition? Arguably one in Munich, that’s it. Gerrard himself has often been his own international critic – Henry Winter of the Telegraph recently tweeted:
Gerrard said recently he’d played well for
#eng only a handful of times. 5-1 + probably Austria 04, T&T 06, Andorra 07, Croatia 09 Poland 13.
Can you imagine any top, top player mentioning a game against Andorra – a country numbering roughly half the population of Stockport – as one of his more memorable ones?
Jordan Henderson claims England have lost an irreplaceable figure in Gerrard. Forgive me but a player who couldn’t take the national side past the quarter finals-scored less goals than Bryan Robson- despite playing over twenty more games- had a worse international goal ratio than Paul Scholes and didn’t once deliver against the big boys at a tournament- is far from irreplaceable. Gerrard may be a legend for Liverpool but for England he’s arguably the national side’s greatest failure.
Disagree with my assessment or have I been too kind? Feel free to comment, suggest and abuse below: