The much-trumpeted ‘Golden Generation’ might have been written off after years and years of nothing but rank underachievement, but as England plan to face Brazil in a prestige friendly at Wembley, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is proving that there is still plenty of life in one of its stars.
Just days after the Three Lions skipper celebrated being named the England Player of the Year on Sunday evening – the second time the midfielder has won the accolade – Gerrard will take to the field against the Samba Boys on Wednesday as the senior member of an inexperienced squad and there is no doubt that he is revelling in the responsibility of being Roy Hodgson’s main man.
Twice overlooked for the captaincy in favour of John Terry – we all know how that turned out – for the first time in his career, Gerrard looks totally comfortable in an England shirt and as the leader of a young national side, he has become the lynchpin of Hodgson’s new-look England.
His Player of the Year award was fully merited, being one of the few English stars who came out of Euro 2012 with any credit after a series of excellent performances (which included three direct assists), making a mockery of the claims that the 32 year-old was a busted flush whose inspiration was on the wane.
For a player who has influenced so many matches at the very highest level, the criticisms of Gerrard always seemed misplaced.
His tactical awareness and ball retention have always been brought up as reasons why he wasn’t a true world-class performer, but that was never his game: Gerrard was world class because of the way he transformed games, not dictated them.
And with his ability to deliver match-turning moments undiminished – see his wonder goal against Manchester City at the weekend – Gerrard has spent this season proving a point to his all-too-quick-to-comment critics.
It is true that injuries, managerial upheaval and the poor form of many of his teammates has resulted in Gerrard enduring a difficult couple of years at Liverpool, and the explosive bursts of pace that defined his game are not what they used to be.
But as Ryan Giggs has proved year on year, top players can adapt their game when age comes knocking and this year under Brendan Rodgers, the Huyton-born star has consistently excelled for his hometown club in a deeper role, controlling play with an astuteness and array of passing he was supposedly incapable of.
The statistics back up what the naked eye suggests. His brilliant strike against City at the weekend was Gerrard’s seventh goal of 2012/13, while he has already made nine Premier League assists – as many as anybody in the league and more than he has ever made in a single season.
His detractors can’t even point to his injury record: we are in February, and Gerrard has played every single minute of Liverpool’s league campaign, during which, like with England, he has been shouldering the responsibility of being the figurehead of a young team in transition.
And when he wins his 101st cap at Wembley on Wednesday, England will again hope to call upon his leadership as they look to claim the famous scalp of Brazil.
With 19 international goals to his name, Gerrard will start the match seeking number 20 and he is 12/1 to open the scoring and 13/4 to net at any time.
But even if he doesn’t add another goal to his international collection at Wembley, there is no doubt that should England qualify for Brazil 2014, Steven Gerrard will be the first name on Hodgson’s team sheet.