Steven Gerrard loves to play for England. He loves it, in fact, with an unmatched ferocity, a desperate devotion. Observing this is not to denigrate in the slightest his commitment and contribution to Liverpool Football Club -- for what deranged loon could? No, to say that representing England is Gerrard's greatest delight is merely to reiterate a fact oft-stated by the player himself. For the Huyton man, donning the three lions is the very apogee of professional attainment, something only ameliorated, of late, by the honour of captaining the side.
Gerrard, who will turn thirty four just before the World Cup, has amassed 107 caps in an international career that's spanned thirteen years to date. It is a monumental achievement, given the relative strength of his competition at various points. Injury aside, if England play then so does Steven Gerrard. With qualification for the tournament in Brazil assured, England play two friendlies against Chile and Germany over the next week. Despite talk of a hip injury, it would be a foolish person who would wager money on the captain not playing in one or both of the matches. Like the movie says, This Is England, and this is also Steven Gerrard.
Brendan Rodgers is a massive fan of the Liverpool legend and has linked his own fate to that of the midfielder's by his heavy reliance upon, and utter faith in the player. Simply put, Rodgers would rather not have a single minute of game-time without his captain on the park and despite all conventional wisdom and fan exhortations, he has steadfastly refused to rest or rotate him. Ahead of the Premier League match against Fulham at Anfield, Rodgers has been speaking in somewhat ambiguous terms about Gerrard's international future.
"It's something that Roy [Hodgson] has probably looked at for these games," Rodgers suggested. "Steven's a real talisman for the group and a real leader for the team and everyone there. Whether he plays in the two games is another thing. When there are times you can rest him, that is important for him. But Steven probably looks at it as this is probably his last international year and after the World Cup that will be all finished and he will have lots of time to rest. Him and Roy have a good relationship and if he needs that rest or breather over the next two games, I'm sure he'll get that."
There is a breathtaking hypocrisy and a frankly stunning lack of self-awareness in Brendan Rodgers implying a break might be beneficial to Steven Gerrard. His Faustian pact with the player has seen the thirty three year old present for virtually every minute in his chosen central role for Liverpool. This, however, is the modus operandi of the club manager. They pay lip service to the importance of international football but they are, in reality, loathe to part with their players. Such an attitude is understandable, and for those of us more concerned with club than country, it is almost commendable.
Debate has raged amongst Liverpool supporters about how best Gerrard's still-ample talents might be utilised for the betterment of the team, both now and in the future, but Rodgers would seem to be implying that the player's England days are numbered. Again, this might be forgiveable wishful thinking on the part of the Northern Irishman or perhaps he has had some private intimation from the man himself to that effect. Either way, the coming tournament would seem to be a likely natural end to Gerrard's international football career.
"You get to a World Cup in Brazil and you are thirty four, so you might not have too many championships left," offered the Liverpool boss. "There are very few players like Javier Zanetti and Paolo Maldini who have gone on. But it is his decision. These are the years he wants to maximise every cap, perfoormance, every minute on the pitch."
That last lyrical flourish from Rodgers betrays what we already knew. He is all too aware of Gerrard's passion for his national team and fears it will cause him to continue past 2014. Gamely, he has tried to plant seeds in the player's mind but he is phlegmatic enough to realise that he hasn't a hope if his captain wants to extend the greatest romance of his professional life. As an Irishman who has befriended many Scousers, this passion is strange and baffling to me but it is very real to Steven Gerrard and that is what counts in this equation.
As we look forward to the surely inevitable soap opera that will be England at the World Cup in Brazil under Roy Bloody Hodgson, I find myself torn. I want this wonderful footballer to succeed on the international stage, out of an affection for his exploits for Liverpool and the joy he's brought me over a decade and a half, and yet I have an Irishman's wariness of the media crowing that would follow an England victory. It might be intolerable! However, it is wilfully obtuse to cheer a player in red and boo him in white. Let us simply hope that Steven Gerrard has a fitting conclusion to his international days this summer and returns to Anfield to lead Liverpool in Europe next season.