England's Immediate Future Lies In Hands Of Gerrard

Gerrard will pick his future, meaning Roy Hodgson has ceded the chance to practise what he preaches and look to the future. Then again, the alternatives aren't great...

Last Updated: 23/06/14 at 15:49 Post Comment

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"I think the key to being a good captain is to do things right yourself - be a good role model. If you do things right, more often than not, players will follow suit. If you set a good example, they will follow."

Such words are now presumably haunting Steven Gerrard as he contemplates whether to retire from international duty and give up the captain's armband, a piece of England's sporting apparel that seems to demand so much and yet generate so little - it would be more fitting if Nike chose to incorporate an albatross worn around the neck by the skipper in their next kit re-design.

The World Cup in Brazil has been a rotten tournament for England, but Gerrard has inevitably suffered most. "All the distances and the miles we have covered, the heat preparation, we have done all that so there are no excuses now," was the call-to-arms on the eve of the tournament. "It is time to walk the walk." Such epithets are expected of his role, but they quickly look foolish when elimination is confirmed a mere nine days later.

Gerrard's form has also been wholly unsatisfactory. His assist for club team-mate Luis Suarez's second goal on Thursday epitomised 180 minutes of football in which England's experienced head demonstrated the all-to-familiar negative features of his footballing character - the Hollywood passes, the over-exuberance to atone for error, the shots from range that fail to test the goalkeeper. When England dragged themselves back into the match against Uruguay, England's captain should have taken control of the situation - instead he dealt the self-inflicted punch to the face.

Whilst Gerrard continues to deliberate his international future (with Brendan Rodgers already hinting at the end of last season that he would like his club captain to focus on Liverpool), a valid question remains as to whether Roy Hodgson should in fact take the decision away from the player.

Although being born and raised on Merseyside makes him the perfect man to captain Liverpool, there seems little relevant evidence for Gerrard's suitability to do so on the international stage. Terry Butcher, Tony Adams and even John Terry displayed the warhorse spirit often demanded by an international captain (and just not England captains), but Gerrard is a more retiring type.

Futhermore, Gerrard's playing style does not particularly link himself to staying as the leader of his national team, explained (perhaps surprisingly) excellently by Gary Lineker. "Gerrard, wonderful player that he is, has been an individual in many ways," Lineker said. "He's not really a player that can organise or spot problems. He didn't spot the danger on England's left side in the first game, which was pretty obvious."

Now 34, there is little to no chance that Gerrard will be playing in Euro 2016 in France, and in November would overtake the age at which David Beckham gained his last cap for England. At that stage it seemed clear that Beckham's time was up, and he had given up the captaincy a full three years previously, and yet Beckham's game relied far less on energy and mobility, even considering Gerrard's move into a more reserved role. By keeping him as captain, Roy Hodgson is effectively indicating that he will be picking Gerrard for England for at least the initial qualifiers - is that not a nod to the past when Hodgson has continuously preached his message of looking to the future?

Unfortunately for England, both in terms of Gerrard's position and his successor as captain, there exist no ideal replacement. For the former, Jack Wilshere is the ideal candidate, but needs a season of fitness and form before he can be considered as a consistent option to play alongside Jordan Henderson. If you consider that Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry have now both run their course, there are very few other options for Hodgson if he wishes to continue his commitment to 4-2-3-1.

If it is even possible, there are even fewer attractive options to be the next captain. In 2012, Hodgson answered such a question by confirming that Wayne Rooney would be Gerrard's successor. "Yes. It's something he's very proud of and something he wants to do," Hodgson told reporters. "He does take playing for England unbelievably seriously and that's a good thing for us."

However, a lot can change in two years. Rooney is not assured enough of his long-term place in Hodgson's preferred formation to be ideal for the job (nor perhaps too the ideal personality type), which leaves Joe Hart and Gary Cahill as the only two viable options. Neither are captain of their club - it doesn't exactly set the pulse racing.

Instead therefore, Hodgson is seemingly choosing the compromise. England's passage to Euro 2016 looks so comfortable (they need to finish second in a group containing Switzerland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino) that he will keep Gerrard in the captaincy role if possible but presumably rarely choose to start him, opting for Wilshere and Henderson where possible. Gerrard's presence within the squad would be maintained, however, allowing him to pass on advice and assistance to the younger players.

The only exception to such a plan may be the away fixture in Switzerland, easily the toughest assignment in the group. That this is also England's first match of the campaign plays into Hodgson's hands, and it would seem likely that if Gerrard himself is willing, he will start in Basel in September.

Like so much surrounding the England camp this summer, there is no perfect solution to England's captaincy conundrum. "The manager has asked me to stay," Gerrard admitted on Sunday, and therein lies the only real fact that matters - Hodgson has nailed his colours to the mast. It appears that once again player power will reign supreme, the decision effectively resting in the hands of Gerrard himself. All hopes of managerial proactivity have been ceded.

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