Early Doors

Little fanfare for England’s sixth centurion

After another dreary day of carefully-plotted pull-outs, timely thigh strains and convenient calf 'complications', one player was declared fit, in almost jubilant fashion.

Steven Gerrard will become England's sixth centurion when he takes to the field as skipper against Sweden at the most welcoming stadium in the world - Stockholm's Friends Arena -on Wednesday night, and players were queuing up to register their delight and admiration for the midfielder.

It was as though a trumpet had sounded as a statement announced the news on the FA website, and the England captain was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief after a scan on his knee threatened to ruin his 100th cap party.

"Steven Gerrard has been cleared to travel with the England squad to Sweden having undergone a precautionary scan on Monday afternoon," the FA roared in bold Tahoma font. It was almost a surprise the governing body did not go the whole hog and refer to him by his full name: Steven George Gerrard MBE. But on the whole, it has been a fairly subdued build-up for the Liverpool skipper.

It may be an essentially arbitrary milestone, but it is one applauded by supporters and highly coveted by players and sees the 32-year-old slip into a group of distinguished former England stars - plus David Beckham.

The only other men to play 100 times for England are Peter Shilton (125), Beckham (115), Bobby Moore (108), Bobby Charlton (106) and Billy Wright (105). The group looks set to be further bolstered by the addition of Ashley Cole, who is one cap shy of the landmark, and Michael Ricketts, who requires just a further 99.

When the last man, Beckham, reached the milestone, it was tempered by snipes about him having limped over the line, courtesy of a flurry of fleeting and, some would say entirely sentimental, second-half stints.

But for Gerrard, however, his stock and influence within the ranks has rarely been higher, with a crucial - if deeper - role in the centre of midfield, and a key leadership role.

There has been no such fading away into a Hollywood afterlife; no sympathy caps in this case. The Liverpool stalwart remains very much at the heart of Roy Hodgson's developing side.

In the course of those 100 caps, only three were earned as a substitute. Gerrard has played across the midfield to suit staggeringly inflexible formations and tired systems, all without throwing a Theo Walcott-style hissy fit over his position.

Installed six months ago as England captain, Gerrard was England's sole representative in UEFA's 'all-star' Euro 2012 squad.

"Gerrard, or anybody who gets 100 caps for his country, has got to be one hell of player," Hodgson said this week. "During those 100 caps there will be times when he wakes up after a game to the headlines 'Mr Fantastic' and there will be times when he wakes up to headlines that say, 'You let us down'. That's the nature of the business. He is an outstanding footballer and a very mature, thinking football man and I'm delighted I'm going to be the manager when he gets that 100th cap."

Some have already rather cruelly pounced upon this landmark as an opportunity to lament what might have been during Gerrard's England career, citing a spate of ill-timed injuries and underwhelming team displays at major tournaments.

But despite having been played out of position for much of his career in an England shirt, or at least out of sync in a hideous partnership with Frank Lampard, the midfielder has scored hugely important goals and made crucial contributions.

Indeed, it would be foolish to be remotely blasé about a landmark that puts him in the company of only a select few for his country at the highest level.

Since making his debut against Ukraine a day after his 20th birthday back in May 2000, when Kevin Keegan no doubt told him to "PRESS UP!" from midfield, Gerrard has contributed 19 goals and pinged hundreds of raking 'Hollywood' passes cross-field.

England have won 64 of the 99 matches the Liverpool man has played in, including the 5-1 victory over Germany which saw the midfielder run the show and give Sven-Goran Eriksson's side the lead in first-half stoppage time.

Some believe Gerrard deserved more from his England career as part of a much-hyped generation of players; others insist that he did not offer enough given his considerable and heroic contributions on the big stage at club level.

But regardless of how he is remembered for specific performances and as part of a generally disappointing 'Golden Generation', earning 100 caps in an era of club dominance and disdain for international football is a hugely impressive feat.

During a time in which stars across the world tactfully nursed niggles until international breaks, picked up convenient muscle strains on the eve of friendlies and even retired from playing for their country absurdly prematurely, Gerrard surely deserves immense credit for having lasted the course.


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COMING UP: Stuart Pearce's England U21 side take on their Northern Ireland counterparts at Bloomfield Road from 19:45, while another batch of FA Cup first-round replays take place from the same time (will MK Dons set up a meeting with AFC Wimbledon?) We will have the best and the worst from the Premier League weekend in Hot or Not and bring you the latest edition of Whistleblower. Our Italian football expert will file once more, along with another piece from the effervescent Paul Parker.