Euro 2012: Steven Gerrard will not allow England to be also-rans
The England captain is eager to make amends for failings in past tournaments and against France
Steven Gerrard was always likely to snap in the end. He had listened impassively to the chorus of scepticism rising into this tournament, and was even willi ng to acknowledge much had been justified given England’s spluttering displays at recent major finals. But, when the suggestion seemed to be this team are also‑rans and ripe to be written off, the captain could take it no longer. Cue smouldering defiance.
“It comes from not performing in those other tournaments but, for me, it has to be a motivation,” he said, his mood piqued by a mischievous question flung at the top table by a French journalist which had felt like one expression of doubt too many.
“I can take it but, one tournament very soon, it will click. We will come in. We will get that bit of luck we’ve been missing and prove an awful lot of people wrong: not just in this country, but around the world. And that fella who was sitting at the back [of the media theatre]. Some of the accusations that have been thrown at this side over the years … the players want to put it right.”
England needed that timely dose of tub‑thumping rhetoric on the eve of their opening game. This side’s reputation was scarred by their meek showing at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago – albeit not to the extent as that of the French, who spent those finals in open revolt – and there is a recognition that time is running out for many of these players to make amends.
Gerrard had briefly considered his international future after the team’s humiliation and elimination in Bloemfontein, though he had eventually concluded that was not the duff note upon which to depart. Back then, he was only captain by default with Rio Ferdinand crocked and absent. This time around, he is his manager’s choice as leader.
He has his own personal demons to exorcise, not least with Les Bleus. In the opening game of Euro 2004, when England were last involved on this stage, it was his sloppy back-pass in stoppage time that was collected by Thierry Henry to induce a penalty from the on‑rushing David James. Zinedine Zidane converted and t he French, despite trailing as the final whistle approached, were victorious. Gerrard has shown flashes in major finals since but his impact, like that of his team, has rarely been prolonged. At 32, this could be a final opportunity that cannot be passed up.
While the watching world has openly questioned England’s credentials, the midfielder has spied cause for optimism. “I have belief in my team-mates,” he said. “I see it in training, I see it week in, week out in the Premier League. We have under-performed and not delivered in previous tournaments, we know, but we come into this one well prepared. Everyone respects the manager’s ideas and we’re all excited and determined to do well. It’ll be about what we can achieve collectively.
“To be successful at this level we’ve all got to turn up and perform well. There’s no point one or two of you turning up or you’ll go home early. If we win this first game, let’s not get carried away thinking we’re going to win the w hole tournament, and if we lose the game it’s not suicide. There’s time to recover.
“We’ve qualified really comfortably and, by doing that, proved we are a good team. Now the challenge is, ‘Can we do it on the real stage?’ And the real stage is in these tournaments. Can we be consistent, in a short space of time, in difficult conditions and against good teams?”
His influence will be key to ensuring they are. Gerrard will sit deeper in Roy Hodgson’s midfield than his instinct might normally dictate, his brief as much about disrupting French possession as sparking his team-mates on the counter. There is an acceptance that Laurent Blanc’s team will monopolise the ball for long periods. England will have to make use of it shrewdly when they can prise it from stingy opponents, with the experienced campaigner at the base of their midfield dictating their rhythm.
It is not Gerrard’s natural game, but it is one he will take on with relish. “It’s going to be tough a gainst France, no doubt about it. They’re a top team, we’ll be playing in the heat, but you have to embrace it and stick together. We know we are going to be solid defensively – we have confidence in that – but now we have to prove we can keep the ball better ourselves. They’ll find it difficult when we have the ball. It is all about us and how we play. If we turn up and play to our level, we can get the result we need.”
Expectations can rarely have been lower outside the squad, but conviction is swelling within. Read More