Liverpool and England legend John Barnes has named Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as the key to the country's World Cup hopes.
Fabio Capello has handed Gerrard the role of stand-in skipper for the injured Rio Ferdinand for tonight's friendly with Egypt. The Italian has confirmed this week he will play a dominant role from midfield in the summer tournament.
Speaking to Goal.com UK at the VIP reception for England’s 2018 World Cup bid, Barnes praised "the impact" Gerrard has on the team. The former left winger also warned that the Liverpool captain and Wayne Rooney "must be firing on all cylinders" for Capello's squad to have a shot at glory in South Africa.
"Gerrard will be immensely important this summer. Him and Rooney are the two most important players for England and I think we need those two players to be firing on all cylinders, playing at the top of their game for us to have a chance of winning the World Cup," Barnes said.
"I think if either of those two get injured or fall short in terms of performances we will struggle to win the World Cup. It just goes to show the impact he [Gerrard] has on a football team.
“Steven can play anywhere, so can Rooney, it’s a nice problem to have. I see with Sir Alex sometimes he plays Rooney on the left, sometimes up front, up top, second striker, playing him anywhere, and Steven Gerrard is very similar.
“But I don’t think England need that. We have enough quality strikers not to need Steven Gerrard to play that role.
“If they want to play him as an attacking player he can do that, if they want to play him as a defensive player he can do that, so I don’t think it is important for Steven to play up front with Wayne for England.”
Jamaica-born Barnes was capped 79 times for England and represented his chosen country at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. He argued the team must put Brazil and Spain to the sword to come back from South Africa this summer with the trophy.
He said: “I think England will do very well and I hope they win the World Cup. They’ve got a good chance of winning the World Cup, but Brazil and Spain are favourites for a reason.
“Bookies aren’t stupid and those two are the best teams in the world. If we can beat Spain or Brazil, we will win the World Cup.”
As an ambassador for the 2018 campaign, Barnes has been working hard to bring the tournament to England for the first time since 1966. The 46-year-old was confident that the nation’s package “ticks all the right boxes” and would “speed up” plans to build a new stadium for Liverpool.
“It’s very important England get the World Cup, but there are a lot of bidders out there who would say the same thing.
“In terms of everything being right and ticking the right boxes, the infrastructure, the passion, the fans, we hope we will get it.
“But in terms of whether we get it or not, we’re not in control of that. We’re in control of putting in the best bid possible and hopefully the decision will go our way.
“Liverpool are going to get a new stadium regardless, World Cup or not, Liverpool need a new stadium, Everton need a new stadium. Now, with Liverpool being a host city that will just speed it up.”