When the teams re-emerged on Friday night and Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard wasn’t in the eleven, familiar concerns were probably once again stirred in the hearts and minds of Liverpool fans across the country.
It wouldn’t be the first time that our captain had been injured on international duty. However, following a 5-nil win over the powerhouses that are Moldova, England manager Hodgson confirmed that it was simply a tactical substitution. The fact, though, that reports on Saturday morning couldn’t decide whether he’d said ‘tactical substitution’ or ‘we’re resting him ahead of Tuesday’s game’ is of slight concern, because that implies there are concerns over Gerrard’s fitness.
The fact that we’re barely 4 games into a new season and Gerrard has had a full pre-season to get his fitness sorted out, means that he shouldn’t really need to be withdrawn at half-time of a fairly pedestrian international game. I mean, don’t get me wrong here, I’m glad he didn’t have to play the full game, but only from a Liverpool point-of-view.
And if current manager Brendan Rodgers had requested this (which is unlikely in a competitive game) then again, I could understand it. But given how much England managers have relied on Gerrard over the years, and how much Gerrard is willing to go through hell to play for his country, it seems unlikely that he’d willingly withdraw himself, unless there was a fitness or injury concern.
It wouldn’t be anything new. Afterall, Gerrard has been winding down for a couple of years now. His style of play was always going to see his ‘engine’ deteriorate over time and it is clearly at the stage now where he is incapable of playing at full-pelt 2-3 times a week.
He said it himself at the start of the season that he will never compromise his style of play, in the face of suggestions that he should start dropping back, in the way players like Barnes and Giggs have over the years, in order to prolong their careers. If that is the case, then our captain will have to make compromises elsewhere, if he is unwilling to change his all action style, and that means quitting England.
I’m being purely selfish, of course and the likelihood of a patriot such as Gerrard giving up so soon after becoming the full time England captain is close to none. But if he doesn’t, then his career will likely not last much more than another couple of years.
Gerrard has never been able to pace himself in games, and will often run himself into the ground in the first hour but he was always blessed with an incredible reserve of energy in his youth. He just can’t do that anymore and when it starts to become obvious, past the mid-way point of the season, that he has run out of steam, he will start less and less games and find himself being replaced more and more often. This is not something I want to happen.
So, if I was the Liverpool manager, I would make the very serious suggestion to my captain that he seriously considers what’s more important to him: one more quarter-final exit at a World Cup, or maybe another year or two at his beloved Liverpool. It’s a tough choice, but it’s one that Jamie Carragher made a few years ago and he has seen his career go on longer than it probably would have otherwise.
And if quitting England means that it gives Gerrard just one or two more opportunities to win his Holy Grail – the Premier League – then it will all have been worth it, and he can look back on a career of complete success.