Gerrard wins 100th England cap, but is he really a great?
Praise, but also regret and even criticism as Liverpool skipper reaches landmark
THE TRIBUTES have been flooding in for England football captain Steven Gerrard as he prepares for his 100th international appearance against Sweden tonight.
Only five other players have reached triple figures for England. And by joining Billy Wright, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton and David Beckham in the hundred club, Gerrard is in exalted company.
Despite the fuss the Liverpool midfielder has been characteristically modest about his achievements and his status in the game. Asked to mark his England career out of ten, the 32-year-old eventually awarded himself a "six or seven".
And while words like "legend" have been bandied about there is an unmistakable feeling that Gerrard's international career could have been more impressive. He has certainly enjoyed a stellar career at club level but Gerrard has never scaled the heights he reaches for Liverpool while wearing an England shirt.
Perhaps it is not his fault. "He has been an extraordinary player during an ordinary era for the national team," says Chris Bascombe in The Daily Telegraph. "There were times when he could justifiably feel misused by his country. When he was considered by many to be the most complete central midfielder in Europe between 2004 and 2008, England managers opted to send him to either the left or right of midfield. Too often, natural versatility ensured he was compromised."
An element of regret is inevitable, says Daniel Taylor in The Guardian. "How could it not be when he was part of the so-called golden generation, playing in the team that thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich but that never got their act together in the tournaments and then disbanded?"
Others are more robust in their criticism. "He never quite made it," declares Matthew Syed in The Times. While most would agree that "he has taken the English orthodoxy of the crusading midfielder to its most elevated plane... only a fool would ignore the doubts about him as an authentically great footballer."
He compares Gerrard, unfavourably, to modern masters like Xavi and Andres Iniesta. "I doubt Gerrard would have made either the Spain or Barcelona first teams, particularly in recent years," he sniffs. "His first touch is not sufficiently sublime, and neither is his capacity to offload instantaneously the ball to a team-mate."
But let's be grateful for what we do have. "Before we urge the last few members of his generation into retirement it would be worth remembering that here is a player with a global reputation. How many of the next generation will be able to say the same at the end of their careers?" asks Sam Wallace in The Independent.