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What Steven Gerrard Brought to England and How National Side Must Now Move on

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  Steven Gerrard of England acknowledges the fans after a 0-0 draw during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Costa Rica and England at Estadio Mineirao on June 24, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has opted to bring down the curtain on his international career, retiring from duty for his nation at the age of 34 and after winning 114 caps, reports Liverpool's official website.

The central midfielder captained the England side at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where they exited disappointingly at the group stage. After considering his future, Gerrard has decided to go on representing only his club.

Gerrard was essentially the last remaining England regular from the "golden" generation including Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry, and he certainly provided plenty of highlights for the international team along the way.

His departure, however, gives England room for manoeuvre ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifiers—and it's a vital opportunity that Roy Hodgson must not spurn this time.

Steven Gerrard retires from international football. Great contribution to England & good timing too after the World Cup.

— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) July 21, 2014


Youth, Peak, Captain

Gerrard had plenty of roles with England, from a young holding midfielder to a box-to-box player; he later adopted a wide role under Steve McClaren and then played as a second forward—even playing as a No. 9 in one friendly.

Most recently, Roy Hodgson reverted to type by using Gerrard as one of two midfield pivots, though perhaps the smartest money was on going one further and employing him as a deep, controlling playmaker, protected by midfield runners who could press and attack relentlessly.

Gerrard scores for England vs. USA in the 2010 World Cup
Gerrard scores for England vs. USA in the 2010 World CupMichael Regan/Getty Images

From his long-range strike in the 5-1 defeat of Germany to goals against the United States and Trinidad and Tobago in successive World Cups, Gerrard provided some of the highlights of England's international side over the past decade and more.

He captained the side at three major tournaments and consistently produced strong showings for the team in qualification campaigns, though it cannot be hidden that the side fell down regardless when it came to progression in finals.

Gerrard was directly involved in England's defeat to Uruguay at this year's World Cup, inadvertently setting up opponent Luis Suarez to score the goal that essentially knocked England out.

His absence leaves a gap in midfield that Hodgson needs to not merely plug, but completely rework.


Midfield Shape

Despite playing a 1-2 midfield arrangement in several late qualifiers and friendlies, the side reverted to 2-1 shape within the World Cup itself, with Raheem Sterling (and then Wayne Rooney) as the more advanced central starter.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  England manager Roy Hodgson gestures during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Costa Rica and England at Estadio Mineirao on June 24, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Playing as a double pivot patently did not suit Gerrard, nor England as a whole, and it is time Hodgson used this opportunity to alter the middle of the pitch by either finding a pairing that works seamlessly on and off the ball, defending and in transitions, or else he should ditch the approach of playing a pair.

Instead, Hodgson could let one player dictate from deep, looking to make passes into space for all the new-found, pacy, attacking midfielders to thrive on.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 29:  Michael Carrick of England in action during the International Friendly match between England and the Republic of Ireland at Wembley Stadium on May 29, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The problem there, of course, is in whom to select for the controlling role.

Michael Carrick is soon to turn 33, and there are few other alternatives; Tom Huddlestone might fit the bill but has rarely had a look-in at international level, Jack Wilshere doesn't possess the defensive traits or tactical discipline to play the role and Jordan Henderson is better utilised in a more offensive, box-to-box role.


Wilshere? Henderson? Neither?

Should England persist with a central midfield pairing, Hodgson needs to find one that works and that can continue to work for the next couple of years, barring injuries—i.e, not Frank Lampard and probably not Carrick either, at least as a regular starter.

Henderson and Wilshere are rivals at club level, and perhaps rivals for the same spot at international level
Henderson and Wilshere are rivals at club level, and perhaps rivals for the same spot at international levelLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Wilshere and Henderson appear to be closest to "first-choice" midfielders, but they do not immediately make sense as a pairing.

Wilshere has neither the work-rate nor the consistency in his game to control play through the middle, and playing the two would seem to limit the effectiveness of Henderson, arguably the most in-form English midfielder last year.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown great prowess at breaking forward from a true central midfield position, along with his ability to play composed football from the centre to beat players one-on-one, but he has yet to truly establish himself as an undisputed starter at club level for Arsenal.

It's a big question for Roy Hodgson to ponder over the next month ahead of the start of the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Switzerland, but with no Gerrard and no captain in place right now, it's arguably the most important decision of all that needs to be taken to help shape English football.

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