England weren’t good enough after all.
As Andrea Pirlo’s audacious chipped penalty sent shockwaves through the mind of Joe Hart (so says the man himself), the lesser-known fact is the nerve and conviction with which Steven Gerrard, England’s new skipper, converted to start England off.
So while Roy Hodgson’s England ultimately showed that they were good but not good enough, Steven Gerrard, with three game-defining assists in three group games, leaves the 2012 European Championships with his reputation enhanced.
Here are six lessons from Steven Gerrard’s fruitful summer that new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers should note—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
For the majority of the 2011-2012 season, “unfit” was almost always mentioned in the same sentence as Steven Gerrard.
In and out of the Liverpool side due to injuries, he failed to find any sort of sustained run in the first team until the final weeks of the Premier League season, which led to doubts about his ability to stay fit and on form for a prolonged period of time.
But having finally maintained that fitness in the tail end of the season, Gerrard arrived at the Euros fit and sharp, and his performances reflected a man in top form, both physically and mentally.
On the flip side, while Steven Gerrard went about his three group games in impeccable form, the sight of him succumbing to cramp after just 70 minutes against Italy in the quarterfinals was surely a reality check to Liverpool fans.
As is the realization that he is, after all, 32.
This is not the Gerrard of old.
The lung-busting box-to-box midfielder who would unleash a long-range screamer one second and arrive in his own penalty box for a goal-saving tackle the next is, unfortunately, no longer.
The key to keeping him fresh and to fully make use of what Gerrard can bring to the Liverpool team, Brendan Rodgers must use him wisely and not be afraid to rest him once in a while.
As Ryan Giggs will testify, this kind of player management will do Gerrard all the good in the world in the long term, as will a reinvention of his role in the side.
But before Gerrard is converted into a full-time No. 10 or even an out-an-out striker for the remainder of his playing days, we have now reawakened to the fact that he can play in the center of midfield after all.
He might have enjoyed his most productive years as an attacking midfielder behind Fernando Torres, but this summer has shown that, when his team needs him, he can deliver in his favored central midfield position.
They used to say that he didn’t have the positional discipline to be a full-time central midfielder.
Scott Parker will no doubt beg to differ.
Besides central midfield, Gerrard also provided timely reminders of his qualities out on the right.
Rodgers would do well to remember that Gerrard enjoyed his most productive personal season in 2005-2006 playing on the right of an attacking midfield trio.
And Gerrard’s three assists for England this summer all came from deliveries out on the right.
He might not be as explosive as he was before, but he still retains the pace, physicality and crossing to make a top-class right midfielder for years to come.
Which leads us on to the next point.
Those who lamented David Beckham’s gradual exit from the England international scene surely took into account what he could offer by way of crosses, corners and free kicks.
But any worries that England would lack a strong set piece outlet were fully dispelled after Gerrard’s productive tournament, when he delivered set pieces that were Beckham-esque in execution.
Last season, Kenny Dalglish used Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson et al on corners and free kicks.
Gerrard provided a timely reminder that he remains the best man for the job.
The best players make those around them tick.
With one swing of his gifted right foot, Gerrard delivered a picture-perfect cross against Sweden that was met with precision, pace and power by Andy Carroll.
The result: 1-0 to England, right out of the Alan Shearer tome of headed goals.
A few months ago, the fact that Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were only starting their second ever game for Liverpool together hit the headlines.
If Gerrard is put on set piece duty and becomes the main provider for Carroll, he might make an Anfield career out of Liverpool’s record signing yet.