By George Ankers
Whichever way you look at it, 100 international caps is an incredible achievement.
When Steven Gerrard leads England out at the Friends Arena to face Sweden, he will become only the sixth man to reach that milestone for the Three Lions.
Twelve-and-a-half years of national service, four major tournaments and 19 goals. An impressive record but did we ever see as much from the Liverpool icon in an England shirt as we might have done?
At his best, Gerrard made matches his own but those games, those days when the mood struck him and he bulldozed himself and his team out of whatever dire situation, were almost all in Reds colours.
The Champions League final of 2005. The FA Cup triumph of 2006. Basically every single thing that happened in 2008-09. When he clicked, Gerrard used to be unstoppable.
While he had moments of brilliance and can still change games, none of his truly great moments have been for England – and not just because there are fewer such games. It never quite clicked.
Luck played its part. Absent from the World Cup 2002 squad in South Korea and Japan with a last-day-of-the-season injury, who knows what Gerrard might have achieved that summer. A spontaneous combustion of game-changing excellence could have made that quarter-final against Brazil oh so different.
From then on, the ‘Golden Generation’ tag took hold of the Three Lions. Nobody came out of it looking particularly pretty. For Gerrard, that period of “stuff all the big names in one team and expect it to work out” logic hamstrung him more than most.
On the basis that, while possessing such devastating attacking ability, he could also run about a bit, he was too often expected to be the legs in a midfield partnership with Frank Lampard. It famously – repeatedly – did not take.
Even on the occasions when the Chelsea stalwart was not next to him, though, the sense of inhibition that increasingly colours his more recent performances crept earliest into his international outings.
There have been glimpses of his all-conquering potential. His part in the 5-1 demolition of Germany was one. Dragging a listless England side to finally beating Andorra in an otherwise reprehensible 2007 match was another. Even when clearly past his best, the Liverpool skipper stepped up with the national armband to be a key influence at Euro 2012.
But has he been as consistently telling a contributor as much as his soon-to-be-fellow centurions? It is hard to see him on quite the same level.
Peter Shilton, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright all have far stronger claims to genuine international legend than Gerrard. Even David Beckham, the most recent to break the 100-cap barrier, made more of a habit of bailing England out when it mattered than the 32-year-old.
Perhaps it is simply a reflection of the amount of international matches played these days than in eras gone by. Matches like Wednesday’s nothing friendly are all too commonplace. The century of caps is inevitably slightly devalued and reaching it in such a meaningless match must feel slightly less special.
For all that mitigation, though, some ceremony and reward is due to Gerrard. His generation may have turned out more copper than gold but the midfielder has done more than most despite never having a team built around him in the years when it should have been.
Like the trophy cabinet from his club career, Gerrard may not have as much to show for his international exploits as befits his ability. But, as with that night in Istanbul, he will always be able to look at his 100th England cap and be proud.
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