After a frustrating international career which has seen him struggle to reproduce his best club form,Steven Gerrard is finally delivering for England.
Twelve years and 95 caps after being given his debut by Kevin Keegan,the dynamic midfielder has emerged as the key figure in England’s Euro 2012 campaign heading into tomorrow’s quarter-final with Italy.
Handed the captain’s armband by new manager Roy Hodgson,Gerrard has revelled in the responsibility,setting up three of England’s five goals while serving as the focal point of his team’s obdurate defensive displays.
It has been a long time coming.
For years,it looked as if Gerrard was destined to be remembered as a latter-day Glenn Hoddle,a gifted footballer whose talent was never quite fulfilled at international level.
That was largely to do with the failure of successive England managers to solve the riddle of how best to accommodate the Liverpool captain.
Whether shunted out to the right side of midfield,partnered with Frank Lampard in an imbalanced central pairing or used as an auxiliary striker,Gerrard has spent much of his England career as a square peg in a round hole.
Yet the arrival of Hodgson as England manager has finally seen the 32-year-old playing in the orthodox central role he has craved for so long.
Stationed alongside a defensive minder in the shape of the tireless Scott Parker,Gerrard has licence to roam,tearing into the box as he did against Sweden,or popping up on the flank to deliver a telling cross as he did for Wayne Rooney’s goal against Ukraine.
Gerrard’s confidence has also been lifted by the fact that he is wearing the captain’s armband for the first time by right rather than default.
The most striking testimony comes from Gerrard’s England team-mates,who have spoken of the inspiring effect that their captain’s form is having.
“What he does on the field he makes people follow,” said Parker. “He makes reactions happen. His football’s done the talking. That’s the best thing to do.
“Stevie has been fantastic. He’s quiet and quite subdued at times,but certainly since we’ve been away he’s let his football do the talking.
“He’s been nothing but brilliant since we’ve been here. He’s been a great captain,someone you can go to if you need to ask for something in terms of he can go and speak to the manager. He’s been fantastic.”
Goalkeeper Joe Hart is similarly effusive,adamant that Gerrard’s leadership has already improved him as a player in the four weeks or so that the squad has been together.
“He’s been great,” Hart said. “Personally,he expects a lot of me. When a guy like that looks to you to perform,it means a lot for me personally.
“It’s made me grow as a player,when he turns round to me and says ‘you need to do this’. He’s an inspirational leader in what he does.
“He’s not going round looking people in the face and telling people they’re not doing the right things,but he leads by example,a model professional. Someone who’s been there and done it. He just inspires.”