We all have our (possibly irrational) football fears. Usually they revolve around things like career-ending injuries or never getting to see your team win something important in your lifetime. My fear is that I'll never get to see my favourite player play with his national team before he ages out of international competition. I've spent more time than I care to admit making age-based calculations around major tournaments, trying to determine what might be the absolute maximum upper threshold for his realistic participation.
It's why I've been so perplexed by the discussion surrounding Steven Gerrard's England future after the 2014 World Cup, as I've generally accepted it as a fait accompli that he'd be done after Brazil long before he, Brendan Rodgers, or anyone else began to bring up the awkward topic what to do with a post-tournament 34 year-old on this particular England team. Gerrard himself seems to have entered into the ambiguous, hedging-his-bets phase of the process.
"I think the appetite and desire to go on will still be there," Gerrard said in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live. "Of course it will be. I want to play football for as long as I can.
"But I think it’s going to be a case of going to Brazil, giving it my best and then, when the tournament’s over, I’ll chat to the right people, and then I’ll make the decision — because I don't think it’s one you can make overnight."
Certainly not an overnight decision, no, but one he'll have been thinking about for a good eight months by the time the tournament is complete. The "right" people will surely involve family, close friends, and management for both club and country, but a poor result for England in Brazil could bring about other changes to the national team set-up that could impact Gerrard's decision as well. And this is all before factoring in any fitness considerations, of which there have to be many at this stage of his career.
Gerrard will be 36 by the time the next European Championship begins. While it's not completely out of the question that he could participate, the fact remains that England's last two major tournament squads were not heavy on the 35+ crowd. In South Africa in 2010, the anomalous David James was the only player who met that description, with 15 of Gerrard's remaining 21 teammates falling within the 28-32 age range. Euro 2012 skewed much younger, with only 8 players falling in that same age range and the team not fielding anyone over 32.
For England's manager at Euro 2016 — whoever that might be — there might very well be qualities in Gerrard that trump any concerns about his age and all that comes with it. A side with an average age on the young side could benefit from having a very seasoned leader in the dressing room. Or it could be that Gerrard decides to hang up his England boots having played one last time on the biggest stage there is. Few players get to a single World Cup let alone three, and going out as one of your nation's most capped players is certainly not a shabby way to end an international career.