The Anfield skipper, named by Roy Hodgson as the Three Lions’ captain heading into Euro 2012 in June, will need to restore credibility and balance to a team bereft of both
By Miles Chambers
No unbiased England fan would deny that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was born to be a leader on the football pitch.
The 31-year-old is among the last remnants of the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ - a group of highly-talented English players who have shone brightly for their clubs but glowed dimly on the international stage.
Key figures included David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Paul Scholes - all of whom are absent from the 23-man squad Roy Hodgson has named for Euro 2012.
Alongside Gerrard, Chelsea trio Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard (and possibly Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney) are all that remain of a squad the English media put on a pedestal.
After years of hurt, the media and the general public have finally abandoned hope and all optimism. But Gerrard will surely see it as imperative that positivity is restored, starting with Saturday's friendly against Norway.
There has not been a better chance to play without the shackles of pressure and perhaps now, finally, the ageing pillars of the Golden Generation can make their mark on a major tournament.
Off the pitch, Gerrard has begun the slow restoration of faith in the national side with his pre-tournament media work.
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He told reporters the afternoon before England's friendly clash with Norway: “You don't necessarily have to be one of the favourites and the best side in competitions to win it.”
For inspiration, all Gerrard has to do is look at the circumstances behind how the Champions League trophy ended up residing at Stamford Bridge this summer.
A team built on a foundation of 'old-guard' players; a former West Bromwich Albion manager taking the helm when there are 16 teams left in a Uefa competition; fan expectation plummeting to a new low - am I describing Chelsea or England?
The comparisons are uncanny. Whether the Three Lions’ success is ‘written in the stars’ as many devout Blues followers believe theirs was, is yet to be seen.
On the pitch, Gerrard has long been a loyal servant to the England cause but his performances need to be raised to the high standards he sets himself at Anfield.
If he is to replicate his Reds form he might want to aim further back than last season. The midfielder may have helped guide Liverpool to a League Cup triumph upon his return from long-term injury at the turn of 2012 but their Premier League campaign went out with a whimper.
Performances like his hat-trick against Everton in March will be what Hodgson dreams about; subdued showings like in the Reds' FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea at the start of May will fill the former Fulham coach's nightmares.
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In training, the new England boss will hope Gerrard can help newcomers settle in, keep concentration on football matters and prevent any rifts springing up inside the camp.
The potentially poisonous situation of Terry’s inclusion and Ferdinand’s omission looks to have been mopped up and scrubbed clean by squad members, as opposed to merely brushed under the carpet.
Gerrard acknowledged the importance of having fellow players passionate in an England shirt such as the Chelsea captain: “John's a fantastic player and having him about certainly strengthens this squad.
“For me as captain it's nice to have other leaders about that can help me do it - Frank Lampard, John Terry, Scott Parker - and also the addition of Gary Neville [to the coaching staff].
“It's about having a lot of leaders out there that are all working hard for the same thing, and that's to be successful for England.”
Gerrard’s 32nd birthday looms at the end of May and this venture to Poland and Ukraine could be his last chance at proving he can perform when it matters for his country, as he did for his club in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.
It will almost certainly be the midfielder’s final European Championship and, after a failed attempt at galvanising the international troops in South Africa two years ago, he will be determined to salvage pride as the Three Lions' skipper this time around.
The Golden Generation may have been a false dawn but, with a lot of luck and leadership, Gerrard has the ability to help this current England crop rise to new heights under Hodgson.