Steven Gerrard will win his 100th England cap against Sweden on Wednesday. Adam Bate believes the achievement is one to be celebrated despite the player's own frustrations over the past decade
By Adam Bate - Follow me @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 14/11/12 10:07am
The word 'highlights' doesn't quite do justice to the achievements of Steven Gerrard's Liverpool career. Not when you were man of the match in the greatest ever comeback in a Champions League final. Not when many on Merseyside refer to the 2006 FA Cup triumph as 'The Gerrard Final'. When the mood took him, the midfielder didn't so much take part in a football match as take over - seemingly bending the outcome of the game to his will.
There have been moments in an England shirt too. Nineteen international goals prove that much. But without the trophies it appears even the man himself will see it as a time of unfulfilled promise. "The team and squad were built up as the golden generation and the expectation and pressure grew over the years," said Gerrard prior to Euro 2012. "We were expected to deliver in a major tournament and by deliver that means going to a final or winning a trophy."
And yet, he isn't the first English superstar to endure an international career without silverware. Do Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton deserve to be seen as international failures? Are the achievements of Billy Wright and Sir Tom Finney in an England shirt now sullied by their involvement in the country's humiliating defeat to the United States in the 1950 World Cup?
Sometimes distance provides perspective and, equally, longevity can be its own virtue. Gerrard is the sixth man to win 100 caps for England and there can be no legitimate suggestion he has done anything other than earn them. Even while the debate raged about how best to accommodate Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team, only the one-eyed and reactionary would have omitted either from the squad.
The 32-year-old has been one of England's better players for over a decade. But for injury the number of caps could have been more. And the career could well have been more glorious. A groin injury saw Gerrard miss the 2002 World Cup finals and, who knows, the man who had scored his first international goal in the astonishing 5-1 win over Germany in Munich could well have made a difference in the Far East. As it was, England's adventure ended in an insipid defeat to Brazil that nonetheless represented the toughest test the eventual winners faced all summer.
Gerrard scored in the first three major tournaments in which he started a game for England. In the last two international tournaments this safe pair of hands has captained the team. Last summer that was a team that travelled to Poland and Ukraine devoid of hope. But Gerrard produced a series of controlled performance to at least match the best result any England side has managed in the past 22 years. If he cannot be seen as an international winner, he at least warrants respect for sticking with it.
Both Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer sat on the sidelines while their erstwhile England colleagues trekked abroad, ultimately to be pilloried for their unsatisfactory efforts. The two men retired at 29 and thus loomed large for years as their countrymen failed to deliver on the considerable expectations. If only Scholesy was there to keep the ball. What a waste of space that Heskey is...
Of course, being sat at home basking in the relative glory of international retirement is the easy part. Taking the hits and carrying on is tougher. "Even though I've had a lot of setbacks and disappointing times as an international, the thought of maybe one day coming back as a success and a hero is still there," said Gerrard in the summer. "That's the buzz." That day may never come. But on Wednesday night, the England captain deserves acclaim for still being out there in search of it.