England Must Protect Steven Gerrard, His Absence Would Be a World Cup Disaster

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England Must Protect Steven Gerrard, His Absence Would Be a World Cup Disaster
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Steven Gerrard needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool and protected like a national treasure ahead of the World Cup, so I would not anticipate the England captain playing much against Peru in the Wembley farewell before the boys head off to Brazil.

Such is the importance of Gerrard, and especially the role he will perform in Brazil, that an injury to the skipper would spell disaster for Roy Hodgson’s entire World Cup plans.

I would go as far as to say that Gerrard would prove to be England’s Achilles heel, if he was suspended or injured during the tournament, because he is so vital to the system that the England manager will use in the tournament.

There is no way Hodgson can risk not having his skipper leading out his team against Italy in the World Cup opener, so he will need to carefully manage Gerrard's game time leading up to that crunch match in Manaus.

Gerrard is as important to England as Andrea Pirlo is to Italy. They are both vastly experienced and hugely influential in midfield, where the games will be won or lost. They are both players who would cause great concern within their respective World Cup camps if they were injured and missed the big opener between the two nations on June 14. Yes, we are not far away now!

Gerrard is playing much deeper these days and is hugely effective from that position even though he might not be able to tear forward to score some of those trademark goals he has been associated with down the years.

The worry for Hodgson and for England going into this tournament is that there is no natural understudy to Gerrard. There is always cover, and there is adequate back-up in every position. But in this case, it would simply not be the same.

Frank Lampard is the nearest, but he is nowhere near as effective in his range of passing as Gerrard, nor as robust as Gerard, and it would be shattering for morale if England lost their captain so close to the tournament.

For all those reasons I cannot see Gerrard being risked against Peru, it just wouldn’t make much sense.

The England manager doesn’t have the flexibility of a Ledley King, who can go to the finals as a centre-half but would be ideal in that midfield holding role, in his squad.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Roy Hodgson does not have a Ledley King-type player at his disposal.

Phil Jones has done it in the past, but he has been struggling for form and fitness all season with Manchester United and isn’t anywhere near the kind of player such as King, who was so effective in that position.  I am not even sure it would be a good idea to play Jones in that role in this tournament, if Hodgson did lose Gerrard for whatever reason.

Lampard is the most likely to fill the Gerrard role if injury or suspension plays a part, so playing the Chelsea legend in that spot against Peru would make a great deal of sense. The manager must make a contingency plan, and Lampard is the obvious fit.

Clearly against Peru, there will be one or two other players Hodgson will be tempted to protect, such as goalkeeper Joe Hart. Even if the Manchester City man is handed a start, he will be one of many changes, as the manager needs to give some game time to the understudies. Again, Hart is an essential ingredient and will be relied upon heavily as the tournament progresses.

I see that England have announced their one-to-11 shirts, and everyone will immediately assume that will be the starting line-up, but don’t be fooled. I’ve had to name the players and their shirts before, and it is not a guide to selection, believe me.

We’ve seen it many times in the big tournaments, the one-to-11 shirts look like a sound indicator, and in most positions it is. But there are a number of selection options open to the England boss, and the shape of the team again comes back to the fitness and form of Gerrard.

Jack Wilshere has been handed one of those seemingly "you're picked" shirts, but he has a long way to go to convince Hodgson he is back to full fitness, so it is imperative that he gets a run out against Peru. With Adam Lallana breathing down his neck for a starting berth, Wilshere has to prove himself in the warm-up games.

I also think Hodgson will be tempted to throw Luke Shaw into the team ahead of Leighton Baines for the friendly with Peru, just to give him a feel for the team and the big-match pressures. Baines is first-choice, but I have always advocated Shaw’s inclusion because it is of vital importance to give the youngsters a taste of tournament experience to increase England's chances of going for glory at Euro 2016.

I read with enormous interest that Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has opted out of going to Wembley on Friday even though he is in London with his team preparing for his own friendly the next day. It was interpreted as a snub in the media, that the Italian manager was not worried about England to the extent that he cannot even be bothered to watch them despite being on the spot.

Fabrizio Giovannozzi/Associated Press
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.

But do you know what? That gives the game away about the Peru friendly. Prandelli knows it is pointless turning up to watch a "shadow" England team against Peru. He won’t be seeing the side that his Italian team will face in their World Cup opener. He knows that there will be at least a couple of players different, and he is too experienced, and so he knows exactly why there is little point going to the game to analyse England’s formation and style of play. He can always see it on TV.

He knows, of course, that wily old Roy Hodgson has no intention of showing his hand so early, but more importantly he has perhaps only this game left to sort out a couple of key issues within his team.

Make no mistake, the Italian manager will be watching those games against Honduras and Ecuador!

On a related note, I’ve been watching England’s preparations in their Portugal training camp with real interest, with the sweat tests and the players wrapped up in layer upon layer to replicate the conditions in Manaus in their World Cup opener against Italy.

It’s all very good, preparation is important, and all that expert assessment will help a little bit, but you are not going to experience the intense humidity in the Amazon jungle as you are in the lovely clear-air conditions in Portugal.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
England players worked hard in Portugal.

Nothing is going to prepare the players for that incredible experience, but Roy Hodgson and his team of experts are doing the best they can until they get the players out there to see for themselves.

You learn from how you prepare your team for the World Cup, and I did quite a bit the year before we took the players out to France for tournament in 1998.

Prior to the finals, we based ourselves in La Manga and then flew out to Morocco, just half-an-hour’s flight, to play a couple of friendlies against Belgium and Morocco in a three-team tournament.

The real work is done on the training ground in reality, especially in the closed sessions away from the prying eyes of the media. That’s why some managers become irate if they think anyone is spying on those closed sessions.

It’s in private, on the training ground, that the England manager will build the shape of his team. It won’t be in a friendly such as the one against Peru; not even in the final two warm-up games in Miami, although he will field his first-choice XI at some stage in both of those games.

 

Glenn Hoddle is part of the star-studded ITV team for the World Cup while he is also a leading pundit with Sky. He is technical director of F30, which staged the highly successful Lonsdale London Legends Cup. Read more on Glenn Hoddle on www.zapsportz.com.

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