Steven Gerrard’s late-stage maturity has him on a career high
Liverpool legend has now played under five permanent England managers
England captain Steven Gerrard celebrates his late goal during the World Cup qualifying game against Poland at Wembley.
Perhaps there is a lot to be said, in the end, for just refusing to fade away. Looking back at Steven Gerrard’s clinching second goal against Poland at Wembley on Tuesday night – a brilliantly Gerrard-ish moment of telescopic athleticism finished with a technically supreme toe-poked dink – it was tempting to imagine a Gerrard greatest hits England showreel, sandwiching together his first and last significant interventions in competitive international football.
It is a story that would begin with a superbly precocious last half-hour against Germany at Euro 2000 as England held on to a 1-0 lead in Charleroi. Fast forward 13 and a half years to Poland on Tuesday and, with those stellar bookends – scourge of Germany to the hammer of the Poles – Gerrard has hoovered up 107 England caps over 14 years in what has been, in the event, a perversely choppy, surprisingly mixed, oddly clamourous international career. Albeit with a sense, now, of a more stately kind of vindication in his dotage.
Last man standing
At Wembley on Tuesday night Gerrard even had something of the last man standing about him: last of that gilt-effect generation, the first really talented superstar Premier League England players whose chief legacy will remain the decadent congealment of Baden-Baden. Beyond this, Gerrard and England has at times been an uneasy, only periodically happy marriage.
He has now played under five permanent England managers, appearing variously as central midfield, right midfield, left midfield, right-back and energetic second striker, and taking in from Wembley to Potchefstroom, the full range of generational lows.
It is testimony to his late-stage maturity that Gerrard has managed to emerge from this an unexpected good news story. At Wembley on Friday night England’s captain produced a typically Gerrard 2.0 performance, remaining an urgent, ferrety presence in his central role throughout.
There was one brilliant set-piece delivery and at times a sense of gear change as Gerrard stripped away his veteran’s weeds and emerged briefly as the long-limbed physically assertive midfielder of his youth, on one occasion pretty much running through Adrian Mierzejewski in pursuit of the ball. Not to mention further confirmation that, rebooted by two excellent years under Roy Hodgson, the narrative of Gerrard’s England career has shifted away from a slightly frantic lack of fulfilment to the status of team leader, greybeard, and unflustered midfield pivot.
Going almost entirely against type, he has achieved the near-unprecedented feat of becoming a better England player as he has got older and for Gerrard this looks like a moment of what in the movie business is called “dignity”. It has, it is now safe to say, been an excellent career.
Three distinct ages
Albeit, things could have easily looked quite different. With England there have been three distinct ages of Gerrard. The first ran from 2001-2004: these were the good times. His first 21 caps came without defeat and featured a thrillingly complete central midfield performance in Munich in the 5-1 defeat of Germany. He also played with distinction at Euro 2004, the last time England looked like having the remotest chance of winning a tournament.