Friday, September 19, 2008

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are both standout midfielders of their generation. Slightly different playing styles, but What is beyond doubt are their consistently stellar performances for Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.

Yet neither has managed to play consistently well for their nation, England, and much has been written on the subject of their performances for Club vs Country, as well as their best position for England, be it individually or in tandem with each other.

An Football365 column, "The Champions League Winners And Drawers", was written after the first round Champions League 08-09 Group Stage. The following snippet beautifully mainly addresses the enigma that is Gerrard and his best position.

I've no idea if I'm breaking any laws in quoting it verbatim here, but I fully credit the author, Pete Gill, as well as the source web-site Football365 and the source URL: http://www.football365.com/story/0,17033,8742_4161329,00.html.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard

They make it look so easy when they're not playing for England. Which, of course, merely adds to the frustration. The better they do at club level, the worse the sense of under-achievement at international level.

Even as he basks in the afterglow of Zagreb, Fabio Capello must still be pondering the same questions his predecessors could not answer: Why do Lampard and Gerrard find international football so difficult? Can they play together? If not, which one goes and which one stays? There are plenty of answers but a definitive solution remains elusive.

Gerrard remains adamant that his own struggles are a consequence of being played out of position, complaining in a recent interview, "I've played in my favourite position for England five times in 68 games." That figure is debatable; but the overriding impression from the interview was Gerrard's preoccupation with his positional play. "I find it difficult to play how I want to in the other positions. My game suffers when my position is changed. I'm a central midfielder and in the big games I want to play in the middle and show that I'm one of the very best in that position."

Yet against Marseilles, Gerrard won the game not as a central midfielder, but as part of an attacking triumvirate behind Fernando Torres and in front of Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano. If Rafa Benitez does not consider Gerrard to be at his most effective as a central midfielder then how and why should Capello? Nor, it seems, does Capello require much persuading in reaching the same conclusion as Benitez having played Gerrard as an inside-left against the Czech Republic in last month's friendly.

Some players would take pride and pleasure in their versatility, their capacity to be so many things to so many managers. The trouble for Capello and Benitez is that Gerrard does not.

"I've paid the price for being able to do a decent job in other positions," he continued to lament. "Other players don't get shunted around because they can't do it. I can't go and play on the right or the left and become Kaka or Robinho, I just go out there, give 100% and do a steady job. I'll work hard, do my bit defensively and help the team. That's why managers do it to me, but it is affecting me. I can operate in a deeper role - I did it for England against Brazil at Wembley and got man of the match - but it's not something I really enjoy."

It is surely a measure of how vexed Gerrard has become with the issue that he can still claim to have been negatively "affected" by his versatility in the same breath as reminding his sympathetic inquisitor that it produced a best-player-on-the-pitch performance against Brazil.

Perhaps we've all missed the point in the interminable Gerrard debate. Perhaps he's missed it too. Perhaps the solution is that he is finally made to realise that he has so much ability that it doesn't matter where he plays and that, regardless of his position, he can still be the best player on the pitch. Because, right now, it's the position of his head that seems to be the problem.

Pete Gill

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