Fowler hails centurion Gerrard as 'perfect captain'
Steven Gerrard's journey to 100 England caps began with a birthday cake, a trashed bedroom and an act of vandalism involving toothpaste.
Footballers' initiation ceremonies tend to be severe and as he prepared for his international bow 12 years ago, Gerrard's was no exception.
His debut under Kevin Keegan – a 2-0 win over Ukraine on May 31, 2000 – arrived a day after his 20th birthday. His present involved a frantic effort to retrieve the belongings tipped into the bath while the taps were running. The words 'Happy Birthday you soft a**e' were smeared on the bedroom wall.
"Toothpaste was everywhere," Gerrard recalled in his autobiography.
"If I was a betting man, I would have put good money on Robbie Fowler as the mastermind and Steve McManaman as chief accomplice. One day, Fowler's conscience will get to him and he will confess."
Call it a gift to mark the England captain's landmark appearance against Sweden tomorrow – he was cleared to travel to Stockholm following a scan on a knee injury sustained against Chelsea on Sunday – but that confession seems to have arrived.
"I can't remember exactly, but it probably was me," Fowler said. "You'd only do those kind of things to the lads you knew and liked and, in Stevie's case, who you knew was going to be around for a long, long time. So yeah, I think that was the kind of initiation ceremony we'd have got up to."
Fowler said that Gerrard's potential to become a regular in England colours was obvious from the moment he emerged on to the scene at Liverpool.
"When Stevie first joined the first-team training at Liverpool he was a small, quite skinny lad," Fowler recalled. "He shot up in size just before he got into the Liverpool first team and he had a few muscle injuries which stopped him making his debut sooner.
"What really stood out even then was how nothing would ever faze him, whether making his debut for Liverpool and then England.
"It's a well-deserved honour for him to get to 100 caps. He's been Liverpool's best player for many, many years. He should have been England's captain a long, long time ago. He can come across to people who don't know him as a bit surly at times, but he's the perfect captain for club and country."
The Gerrard of today is the perfect ambassador for English football, the prototype captain who will feel as much pride for what leading his country on his 100th appearance means to his father, Paul, as himself.
He will seek to celebrate the landmark in typically conspicuous style on the park by leading the side to victory in Sweden, and discreetly off it with a family meal this weekend.
If the England squad are short of ideas for their own private commemoration, there may be a shortage of toothpaste at the team hotel by tomorrow evening. (© Daily Telegraph, London)