Following another full ninety for England that saw Steven Gerrard looking more energised from start to finish than he has at any point so far this season at the club level, it was hard for some Liverpool fans not to raise the old question of just where the captain's ultimate loyalties lie. Though perhaps, given the importance of the match to England's World Cup hopes, that Gerrard found some late, extra reserves as he might have in a decisive derby or cup tie for Liverpool, it's a question best ignored.
Moreover, regardless of Gerrard's efforts for England and that some will have struggled to square them with the tired second half performances he has managed at the club level this season, that club vs. country question doesn't especially matter any more. Not in Gerrard's case. Not for the rest of the season at least. Bar a few inevitable friendlies the captain won't feel obligated to perform in at the same level as against Poland on Tuesday, England having punched their ticket to Brazil means there's only club to concern himself with until next summer.
"As a footballer there is never much time to enjoy big wins," he told the Liverpool Echo. "Now I switch my focus to Newcastle. I’ll park England and get my recovery done. It’s a case of starting where we left off before the international break. We’ve started the season tremendously well and Luis Suarez coming back has given everyone a big lift, [and] with some of our big players coming back into the squad like Glen Johnson, Joe Allen and Aly Cissokho, plus Philippe Coutinho not far away, things are looking good. I want three points against Newcastle now."
As for his England loyalties, now, as he puts it, shelved until the summer, Gerrard admits to a great deal of relief at having secured qualification on Tuesday evening. The need to avoid heading to the qualification playoffs, where England would have been matched up against an unseeded side—in this case one of Iceland, Romania, Sweden, or France—had left the England camp feeling the pressure heading into the final group qualification matches, and that Brazil will be the last World Cup Gerrard plays in added an extra layer of it for the captain.
"It’s difficult to describe really," he said. "[England] has been under immense pressure over the last eight or nine days. When you know the nation expects and everyone was waiting for us to qualify, the thought of having to go through the playoffs wasn’t a nice feeling. To get the win, top the group, and qualify for Brazil means so much. The fact this will be my last World Cup was my motivation. I’ve enjoyed my England career and now I want to go to Brazil and enjoy it.
"At 1-0 you were thinking a refereeing decision, a mistake or a bad bit of play could backfire. Then we would have been carrying that pressure into November and we didn’t want that. We wanted to seize the moment and we did that. When the second goal went in it was more relief really. This team has taken lot of criticism along the way which has helped to drive us on.
"Slowly we have taken strides forward. We have tried to grow and improve over the course of the qualifying campaign, We want to stay grounded and humble. But there is no doubt we are improving and hopefully we can keep doing that and surprise a few people in Brazil next summer."
All of that, though, is for next summer. Until May 11th of next year, at least, Gerrard and England takes a turn on the back burner. For the next seven months, Gerrard and Liverpool and finishing in a top four place that would return the club to the Champions League next season is the only priority. For now at least, that makes any questions about Gerrard's ultimate loyalties or which level he most craves success at blessedly irrelevant.