Gerrard’s a legend, but not for EnglandComment on this story
London - Steven Gerrard made 114 appearances for England. By his own, brutal, reckoning, there were not enough good ones.
On the occasion of his hundredth cap, Gerrard put the figure at no more than six or seven great games. He winced as he said it, that pained expression so familiar to those who have followed his career as an international footballer.
It was an honest emotion, openly displayed. Like him, it will be missed.
Gerrard winced a lot with England. There has probably never been a better England captain at fronting up, but it wounded him to have to fill the role of honest broker so regularly, to defend, to justify, to rationalise.
He was at it again in Brazil last month, sitting side by side with his manager Roy Hodgson, laying to rest another doomed campaign armed only with words. He must have hated that. Gerrard the man of action, reduced to parroting empty statements of hope.
On Monday, he indulged the Football Association’s fantasy of a glittering England career, too. One imagines it would not be his description. One of the greatest players of his generation in Europe, his standards are set considerably higher.
Gerrard was a symbol for England, but not in a way he would have hoped. He came to epitomise the shortcomings of the national team, its inexplicable failings, its one consistency: the ability to disappoint.
Here was a brilliant player - one of this country’s finest, from any era - yet where was he for England? Gerrard will say he was rarely given his favoured central midfield role, but the problem runs deeper than that.
It says something for the parlous state of the England team right now that a player who has so often failed to find a home in international football leaves such a big hole on the occasion of his retirement. This emptiness implies a magnificent career which Gerrard, sadly, did not have. There were echoes of Bryan Robson in his game, but not in his impact at international level.
In the circumstances, then, it is mystifying that Monday’s announcement leaves such a void in England’s midfield - yet without doubt it does. Wayne Rooney will collect his captain’s armband, but there is no-one like Gerrard in the squad now, no-one with his engine, with his capacity to be the best defender, the best tackler, the best passer, the hottest shot.
These qualities were not seen often enough in tandem for England but we knew they were there and we lived in constant hope they would surface in a big game.
On his day, Gerrard was the most exciting England midfield player since Paul Gascoigne; there just weren’t enough of those days.
Whose fault was this?
A bit of theirs, a bit of his. Sven Goran Eriksson could have done more to make the partnership with Frank Lampard work, but Gerrard wasn’t as open-minded as he could have been with some of his other international managers.
He turned in some of his most consistent performances in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, started in a forward role on the left by Fabio Capello. He hated it, but played well and was an excellent foil for Rooney. A pity he appeared to see any position bar his favourite as a slight.
Ultimately, no footballer of modern times better encapsulates the growing disconnect between club and country than Gerrard. He was always committed to England, but in the red shirt of Liverpool he was a different class. He seemed more comfortable there, played as if free, and while he won a century of caps with England it is his performances for the club that will endure.
The day he steps down at Anfield, commentators will run out of superlatives detailing his great games, yet as an individual his memorable England displays are unlikely to number double figures.
While he has won every trophy bar the title with Liverpool, his era for England, 2000 to 2014, has been marked only by underachievement.
Roy of the Rovers was how Gerrard was characterised, but that disguises the uncertainty he often felt in an England shirt.
Appointed assistant to Steve McClaren, Terry Venables said his greatest shock was discovering Gerrard’s private insecurity.
Capello once described him as timid, and initially preferred John Terry as captain.
The marauding warrior in a Liverpool shirt seemed almost crushed by a sense of duty with England.
Venables thought the reason Gerrard’s partnership with Lampard so often failed to fire was that neither player was prepared to commit to attack, for fear of leaving space at the back.
Far from being too cavalier, they were too diligent and sat deep, intently focused on protecting the back four and not letting the side down.
What is remarkable about Gerrard’s Liverpool career is the number of times he has risen to the grandest occasion: the 2005 Champions League final, the 2006 FA Cup final, a Merseyside derby in 2012, Gerrard has saved his best for when the stakes are highest.
By contrast, his finest England games have often been inconsequential: a friendly against Hungary, the 3-0 win in Andorra.
He was excellent in the 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, but that was a team effort rather than an act of solo heroism.
Ultimately, Gerrard was part of an England team that was less than the sum of its parts.
He played in three World Cups but shared in no more than two or three acceptable England performances (against Sweden in 2006, Slovenia in 2010, and arguably the first half against Italy in 2014).
He captained his country through the last three tournaments but each campaign ended in the standard inquest, with England outwitted, as always.
On each occasion, Gerrard would give a frank appraisal, particularly of his own performances. Maybe that was part of the problem.
He knew there was something missing, just as we did. And like us, he couldn’t explain.