Last season’s Liverpool team was perhaps the best and worst thing to happen to the English national team setup. Brendan Rodgers built a free flowing, attacking squad on a mostly English spine. All Roy Hodgson had to do was take that blueprint and somehow wiggle Wayne Rooney into it. That’s it. So easy, even old Woy can do it.
Only, it turns out it wasn’t so easy. If you’ve watched Liverpool this past season, you’ve seen that the defense was a disaster. They’ve conceded so much, and it was so easy to break them down because their defense wasn’t solid enough and one of their midfielders was running far too much for him to do much of anything else. They were bailed out a lot of the time by the efforts of Luis Suarez. And Wayne Rooney is no Luis Suarez.
There have been a lot of calls for Roy Hodgson to drop Rooney, who isn’t the best 9 (that would be Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge) or 10 (Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling / Southampton’s Adam Lallana / Everton’s Ross Barkley) England has. And while I have been a proponent of this change, England’s problems will not be solved by doing that.
England’s problems lie much deeper, in the guise of their deep lying playmaker, the England captain and Liverpool symbol, Steven Gerrard.
I mentioned above how Liverpool’s set up had one midfielder doing too much running to be of any use at anything else. That midfielder would be Jordan Henderson, another vertebra in the Liverpool spine that makes up the English national team. At club and national level, Henderson has to run for both he and Steven Gerrard because Gerrard at this point a) is too old b) can’t be bothered c) all of the above. (Seriously, Jordan Henderson does so much running that when he was suspended, two players were brought in to make up for his absence.) This is fine when it’s being deployed against Sunderland or Wigan, but you do that against wine connoisseur Andrea Pirlo and he will eat you alive.
England and Liverpool do so much to accommodate Steven Gerrard. I get that he’s a national treasure and a club legend and the symbol of English football (or something), but he’s becoming too much of a liability at this point. I’ve been on the “Bench Stevie G” bandwagon for a year now, telling everyone how accommodating Steven Gerrard has been to the detriment of everyone around him. By doing that, your young players, such as Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere aren’t able to develop properly. (Henderson needs to be receiving more touches than he does, and Wilshere found that he could only contribute in a severely limited capacity against Italy.) By doing that, you can’t build for the future, leaving you pretty much screwed when Stevie G decides to call it quits. (I’ve lived the same situation with Xavi; the difference is that with Xavi, everyone but him knows he’s not the player he once was. You talk to anyone about dropping Gerrard and they go livid.)
Take the case of Jack Wilshire as an example. After his stellar display against Barcelona (where he was bossing Xavi around; Barcelona should have seen this coming), Wilshire was lauded in the English press and thrust into the limelight as the future of England. Then? Nothing. Nowadays, Jack is an oft injured midfielder who can show some flashes of brilliance.
While this isn’t an indictment of Steven Gerrard (there are a million factors that go into the stagnation of Jack Wilshire), there was never a scenario discussed in the development of Jack that included a Gerrard-less future. When he made it into the national team, he made it as part of a Gerrard led midfield (with Frank Lampard. Remember those teams?).
Jordan Henderson is another player impacted by the inclusion of Gerrard. His role on this squad is basically to run around trying to de-possess midfielders and give the ball to Steven Gerrard, which is a shame, because Jordan Henderson is so much more than that. He’s a capable attacker and someone who can run into the 18 yard box and score (basically what Gerrard used to do well when he was younger). But he can’t do that with Gerrard around because guess who still is doing that for England?
Steven Gerrard can still be effective for both Liverpool and England, that’s not up for debate. But he’d be much more effective as someone who comes off the bench and plays 30 minutes, changing the complexion of the game, than as a regular in the starting XI.
England has yet another golden generation of players that can have an impact on the world stage now. It’s a shame that they are letting it slip.