Watching England’s captain at UEFA Euro 2012 was not an exercise in sport.
It was a John Keats poem. Keats and Oscar Wilde together would be hard pressed to create a more romantic character. Steven Gerrard was the lens through which nearly all his nation’s footballing virtues and flaws could be examined.
More so than the Three Lions, Steven Gerrard is emblematic of everything that defines his English generation: proud, industrious, and what some may call defiant–others stubborn.
No one plays with more pride than Liverpool’s number eight. He exudes it. For this reason, his appointment as national team captain was overdue. His resume features greater tenure than that of Scott Parker and more grace than the embattled John Terry. And from day one, he ran with the banner. His stoicism under pressure marked the point around which compatriots coalesced.
With that attitude endemic, the work ethic quickly follows.
Gerrard, at 32, is as full of industry as the smoke stacks of Leeds and Manchester. Roy Hodgson’s system left Gerrard and Parker alone for long spells in the center of the pitch. They faced three-man sets and dizzying passing from Mediterranean opposition. Yet, they stood their ground. Through wear and tear, cramps, heat, and against the tide of old age, they never stopped fighting.
In that sense, Gerrard, and in turn England, is not at fault. The French are yet to rediscover past form since their World Cup 2010 implosion. And once more, the Dutch found larger adversaries in their own hubris than in the opposition. In each case, individuals took precedent over the badge and as a result the team failed. Those were not England’s problems. “Captain Fantastic” held his head high, and so should the country. Their failures had little to do with pride or effort.
However, there lingers what the glass half full crowd will call defiance. The less optimistic cite the unwillingness to change. England, and in turn their captain, looked outdated this summer. The world continues to place greater and greater emphasis on possession. All the while, England remains obdurately frozen in time.
It it is no coincidence that each of the four semi-finalists featured a masterful passer in midfield. Moutinho, Ozil, Pirlo and just about everyone playing for Spain were peerless in their control over proceedings.
In contrast, England has its two banks of four, speculative movement forward and desperate defending. At the heart of that philosophy and tradition stands Steven Gerrard. He played his role to dutiful perfection. However, the Italians proved that the status quo is no longer good enough.
England must evolve.
Liverpool under Rodgers is evolving.
Thus, the question posed is this: At 32, does Steven Gerrard have it in him to change? Is he capable of leading the charge towards modernisation for club and country?