In what is becoming an increasingly thrilling Euro 2012, one player above all others has carried the fight for England as the brave new dawn under Roy Hodgson gathers pace.
I’m talking, of course, about Steven Gerrard. It is easy to forget that there were plenty of dissenting voices when he was appointed captain by Hodgson just a few weeks prior to the tournament.
Tottenham’s Scott Parker was the popular choice, with Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry also finding support. Apparently, there was even one non-Chelsea fan who thought John Terry should be given the armband again.
But Hodgson plumped for Gerrard, whose qualities he knows only too well from their time together at Liverpool, and it is a decision which is looking pretty shrewd right now.
|Republic of Ireland win||£100.00||(4/1)|
Gerrard is the first to admit that he has never quite delivered for England at major tournaments and for some, his reputation remains tarnished by his part in the failures of the over-hyped ‘Golden Generation’.
However, with most of those players now retired from the international scene or not featuring at Euro 2012, Gerrard has been given a chance to take centre stage – and he’s grabbed it with both hands.
Far from simply being an additional shield to the back four, three assists – one in each game – shows that the 31-year-old is also still able to turn on the style in the final third when required.
He will be 33 by the time the next World Cup arrives in 2014 and you get the impression that he is playing like a man who knows this could be his last opportunity to taste glory with the Three Lions.
After all, there’s no doubt Father Time is starting to catch up with Gerrard. Niggling injuries are becoming increasingly regular, while the old dynamism and barnstorming runs from deep are seen much less frequently these days.
However, the man whose tactical acumen was called into doubt as countless managers tried (and failed) to successfully incorporate him into the same England midfield as Frank Lampard is now finally proving his critics wrong.
A Group D campaign which brought three mature, efficient and disciplined performances in the engine room alongside Parker suggests Gerrard is relishing being the embodiment of Hodgson’s famed obsession with shape.
But far from simply being an additional shield to the back four, three assists – one in each game – shows that the 31-year-old is also still able to turn on the style in the final third when required.
Gerrard is rated as a 20/1 shot to be the official Euro 2012 player of the tournament. At the risk of falling into the old trap of suddenly believing England are world beaters on the back of a couple of reasonable results, could this be a decent punt?
Put it this way: if England, having dodged all-conquering Spain in the quarter-finals, see off Italy on Sunday with another solid contribution from Gerrard, those odds will probably be cut in half at the very least.
In fairness, Gerrard’s performance in the victory over Ukraine was overshadowed by the hype surrounding the return of Wayne Rooney, who, in truth, stank out the Donbass Arena aside from his goal.
The Manchester United man is a 28/1 shot to land the best player award, with Germany’s Mesut Ozil currently the favourite at 6/1, followed by Spain’s Andres Iniesta and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who are both at 13/2.
But if you want to show your faith in Hodgson’s men, you could do a lot worse than have a couple of quid on Gerrard stealing the show, regardless of whether England finally manage to end 46 years of hurt in Kiev on July 1st.
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