Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 February 2018

Introspective Gerrard must do more than lead by example

Jason Burt

IN THE England quarters at the five-star Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus there are a series of giant photographs hanging on the walls, inspirational images of players, individual and groups.

One shows John Terry and Frank Lampard celebrating a Premier League title with Chelsea, another has Steven Gerrard lifting the European Cup for Liverpool in 2005. If England are to win the World Cup, it will now be the midfielder who raises the trophy as his country's captain.

It has been a long road for Gerrard to be confirmed as the man to wear the armband, but one which has come about in the most dramatic circumstances, with Rio Ferdinand ruled out through injury a week before the tournament kicks off in South Africa.

It means England have had three captains in a matter of months. And will the role revert to Ferdinand after the World Cup?

Just like Michael Dawson, Ferdinand's replacement in the squad, Gerrard would not have wanted it this way. But circumstances dictate. There will be no formal announcement that the 30-year-old is the captain, just as there was not when Ferdinand succeeded Terry after he was stripped of the role. For Fabio Capello it is a natural succession following a cruel blow, but also an attempt to keep some sense of equilibrium.

It has been a turbulent week for Gerrard, full of mixed emotions as he flew to South Africa on Wednesday knowing that Rafael Benitez was on his way out of Liverpool.

Gerrard, like Jamie Carragher, can expect to be consulted on that and though it is not Capello's way to discuss matters extensively with any of his players, he may well be advised to ascertain Gerrard's state of mind.

For Gerrard is not the most straightforward of characters. That pronounced worry frown on his forehead is there for a reason and Capello has privately remarked about the player's serious nature. Gerrard was, after all, the first captain selected by the manager when he took over and decided he would rehearse candidates before making a permanent choice. Gerrard, Ferdinand, Terry and Gareth Barry were the four he would choose from.

But when Gerrard wore the armband against Switzerland in February 2008, he was deemed by Capello to be too timid, in a team cowed by recent experience of failing to reach the European Championships.

The manager wanted a more vocal leader -- and also one who would look him directly in the eye and perhaps be less introspective than the Liverpudlian, who was prone to direct his gaze to the floor.

It immediately put Gerrard out of the running and came as a shock to Capello, and meant that the player lost the vice-captaincy -- which he had held under Steve McClaren -- as well as the chance to grasp the main prize.

Gerrard could lead by example, but there was also the added complication of fitting him into the team and finding a role that suited him. Capello eventually settled on that, with the midfielder coming in from the left to link with the attack. However, with Barry returning to fitness, Gerrard may well find himself as the holding midfielder against the United States a week today.

He has the talent to be versatile and also the aggression, and after being guilty of self-doubt there is also a burgeoning confidence when it comes to wearing the England shirt, which was evident again with his intervention in the second half against Japan last Sunday.

Gerrard also captained his country against Egypt in March -- with Ferdinand injured -- and Capello sensed an improvement in his demeanour then. In terms of ability, influence and experience, he should be a natural leader in the same way as he is such an important figure for his club.

With Terry having been told he will never again captain England under Capello and Barry still not fit, Wayne Rooney, who craves ultimately to be captain, but who Capello doesn't want to award the role to just yet, at 24, will be expected to become vice-captain for the time being. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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