There will be much more cross examination on whether 34 year-old Steven Gerrard fulfilled his potential for England, but I think the more pressing issue is whether his retirement from international football will help or hinder the national team.
One thing Roy Hodgson will definitely miss next time England play will be Gerrard’s influence. The Liverpool captain instilled a sense of calm in the England camp in the last two tournaments, moving away from the media circus that entrapped the ‘Golden Generation’ under Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello. It will be hard for Hodgson to replace his influence in his team, and it shows in the lack of club captains who are in the squad. Besides from Gerrard, only Phil Jagielka and Adam Lallana were captains at club level in the 2014 World Cup squad and I doubt either of these will have the armband off Gerrard.
On the other hand, Steven Gerrard is starting to show his age in this young England side. At the World Cup he was chasing shadows against Italy’s diamond midfield and looked like a sleep deprived Dad of 18 month old triplets at times. This was in stark contrast to Andrea Pirlo who looked barely out of breath after 90 minutes despite being a year older. Against Uruguay, Gerrard looked like he was running in treacle, with his ageing legs struggling to create any drive or intensity in middle of the park. It made England look lacklustre and reverted them back to the boring England of 2010 rather than the vibrant performance we showed against the Italians.
At the World Cup, he played alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield. He didn’t seem that comfortable in this position and didn’t really have the legs for it in my eyes. He really didn’t fit into the system; it required a player with greater sharpness on the ball and who could turn the ball over quicker. He might have done better if England played with a diamond midfield, with Gerrard operating at the base like he does for Liverpool. But England has spent the last 15 years not having a system to fit players in correctly, so starting that now wouldn’t really move England away from their talismanic complex.
Not too many players in the current England squad have the experience of Steven Gerrard. Rooney is now the most experienced player in the team, but there is a chasm between Rooney on 92 caps, Hart, Johnson and Miner who have 40-50 appearances and the majority of the squad who don’t really have more than 25. It’s safe to say that there’s a new generation coming though, and not many of the old guard are now around to guide the young guns through difficult games and times.
This is not necessarily bad for the national team. Yes, Gerrard has a wealth of experience but his only experiences in an England shirt are of failure. The England team in the past decade haven’t over-performed and have come undone at the sight of a superior team. Having experience doesn’t matter all that much if he doesn’t have the experience of how to make it through big games and win things internationally. With this in mind, perhaps Gerrard and the Golden generation moving on will help this new generation of players start afresh, going into these games with youthful confidence and not a losing mentality?
Steven Gerrard does have a decent goal scoring record for England, averaging a goal every 5 and a half games which isn’t too shabby for a midfielder. He was also a very good set-piece deliverer and seamlessly replaced David Beckham from corners and deep free kicks. In Euro 2012, his sure deliveries contributed to goals from Joleon Lescott and Andy Carroll in the group stages for us to progress to the knockout stage.
Do I think it will help or hinder England? I think he was starting to hold back the team and if Hodgson can get the best out of his youngsters then this England team can push on. That being said, even a 34 year-old Steven Gerrard is probably better than 90% of English midfielders so other players need to step up to the challenge.
As he was starting to show he was struggling in the World Cup, I think it is time for Gerrard to retire. I think he’s retired at the right time as it allows Hodgson to bed in a new player and system for the qualifiers for Euro 2016. Just who is that player remains to be seen but like Lallana & co, others to stake their claim this Premier League campaign.
I think it’s safe to say that Steven Gerrard retiring from international football will definitely help Liverpool. With the club playing in the Champions League for the first time in five seasons, they will need their captain ever present to help them challenge for the league title and in more cup competitions. Not playing international football will give his weary legs a rest on occasions his counterparts have to travel and play across the world. Overall, it’s fully understandable.
Hopefully Steven Gerrard’s time playing for England will be remembered for the right reasons. For better or worse, he had a positive impact on the next generation of England players, it’s just up to them to step up now.