Centurion Gerrard feeling below par with England

As Steven Gerrard prepares to win his landmark 100th cap, the England captain has admitted his international career rates no better than six or seven out of 10.

Gerrard will become only the sixth Three Lion to reach the century, following in the footsteps of Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright.

The third and fourth names on that list stand out immediately as true icons of the English game, the man who captained their only World Cup-winning team and its best player.

So often lauded as one of the best of his own generation, it is that standard Gerrard judges himself by.

And, in comparison, the 32-year-old does not believe his own achievements stand up to much scrutiny.

“If they are a 10 I would rate myself as a six or seven,” said Gerrard.

“(Moore and Charlton) will always be heroes of mine and heroes of English football.

“In football, hero and legend status get given out far too easily. As far as playing for England goes, there are maybe 14 or 15 heroes. The rest haven’t really delivered.”

There have been some momentous days with England for Gerrard.

Scoring in that astonishing 5-1 win over Germany in 2001, leading his country into two major tournaments, racing away in triumph following that opening goal of the 2010 World Cup against the United States.

Yet it is hard to escape the view that his time has coincided with one of international unfulfillment.

The assessment is not one he disagrees with, particularly when he looks back to the period between his debut in 2000 and Euro 2004.

At the time, Sven Goran Eriksson seemed to have presided over a decent period, reaching three quarter-finals in a row for the first time.

Gerrard knows it should have been better. I don’t really like talking about the ‘golden generation’ but, front to back, that was a really strong team,” he said.

“I totally agree that group of players underachieved at big tournaments. It should certainly have got to a semi-final.

“I know we were unlucky at times in the penalty shoot-outs but that is certainly a regret now.”

The strength of the respective teams may have been vastly different.

But when Gerrard stood in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium less than five months ago, internal questions about whether it was all worthwhile were forgivable.

After all, the venue, opposition and team-mates might be different but the outcome was still the same. Beaten, in a quarter-final, on penalties. Again.

“My initial thought was ‘not again’,” said Gerrard of the Euro 2012 loss to Italy.

“I was confident going into the shoot-out. When our penalty takers were named I thought ‘this is us: last four’.

“But taking a penalty in a tournament for England is a million times more difficult than taking one in a normal situation.

“Maybe other countries don’t think that but they haven’t experienced the disappointment we have. That’s three times now for me. I don’t think any other international player would have experienced that.”

So, Gerrard thought about whether to carry on.

And when he wondered about the prospect of partnering Jack Wilshere in midfield – as he might well do in the Friends Arena tonight – and precocious talent such as Wilfried Zaha, also in Stockholm but weighing up whether to commit his future to England or the Ivory Coast, the answer was pretty clear.

“When you are my age and have another disappointment with England it (quitting) crosses your mind,” he said.

“After the Italy disappointment, I had a decision to make.

“But knowing players like Jack were coming through made me feel it was worth hanging about and carrying on for a couple more years to see if things change.

“If we can produce more players on Jack’s level, maybe we have got a chance of going far in a tournament.”

Over the past couple of days, Gerrard might also have been bending Zaha’s ear.

After all, a big decision is looming for the youngster over where he should commit his international future.

Tonight’s friendly will not be the clincher.

The African Nations Cup in January probably will be, with Didier Drogba anxious for Zaha to commit himself to the Ivory Coast, the country of his birth.

If nothing else, Gerrard will ensure Zaha is as relaxed as possible in such a strange environment.

“I don’t want any of these young lads to fear me,” he said. “I’m approachable. The first thing I do when someone is new into the group is speak to them because I know how intimidating this set-up can be, especially for Wilfried.

“He has come from the Championship and is not playing against these players every week, so doesn’t get a chance to speak to them. I told him if he needs anything, I am here.”

Hodgson last night took the rare step of unveiling his team to the media in advance of kick-off, which includes three players in Raheem Sterling, Glen Johnson and centurion Gerrard – but no starting role for Zaha.

Team: Hart (Manchester City), Johnson (Liverpool), Cahill (Chelsea), Caulker (Tottenham), Baines (Everton), Gerrard (Liverpool), Cleverley (Manchester United), Osman (Everton), Sterling (Liverpool), Welbeck (Manchester United), Young (Manchester United).