The only thing Steven Gerrard knows about his future is that it is not going to interfere with his 2010 FIFA World Cup™ present. As he nears 30, Gerrard has been given greater cause to reflect by the frustrating club season he has just endured.
A campaign that began with Liverpool expected to mount a sustained challenge for their first English title in 20 years ended with Rafael Benitez's squad staggering over the finish line in seventh place and serious doubts over whether Gerrard and star striker Fernando Torres will stay at the club.
Injuries played a part but, even when fit, Gerrard rarely produced his best form, with the result being that the issue of whether he stays or goes has been deposited near the top of his personal agenda. The upside for England is that Gerrard's domestic disappointment has sharpened his appetite for success on the international stage and he recognises that all thoughts of 'where next?' must be put to one side for the next six weeks.
"I fell into the trap four years ago at the last World Cup where I was driving myself mad thinking about my future," he confessed. "This time I won't make that mistake - I won't think consider my future or think about what is going to happen to me until after. I feel as if I am experienced enough now to park issues like that."
By his own admission, Gerrard failed to perform at his best at Euro 2004 and at the last World Cup. Looking back, he accepts that the incessant speculation about a possible move to Chelsea, which reportedly triggered death threats against members of his family, may have been a distraction in Germany.
"I used to go back to my room and read the papers and go on the Internet and then I would speak to people at home who were telling me that there was stuff going on," he said. "I knew that Chelsea were very interested because my agent was telling me. But this year that won't be happening. Every time I went back to my room I was driving myself mad thinking about should I go to Chelsea or not. Mentally it might have drained me. I don't know if it did or not. It might have but I won't make that mistake again."
Whether Gerrard has a good World Cup may depend in large part on the extent to which he and Wayne Rooney can develop a promising understanding into a combination capable of opening up the world's best defences. Previous England managers Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren both struggled to find a system in which the Liverpool midfielder was not treading on the toes of Frank Lampard or occupying the same space as Rooney when he dropped back in search of possession.
Under Fabio Capello, that riddle appears to have been solved by the introduction of Gareth Barry as a holding midfielder, the imposition of restrictions on Lampard's attacking instincts and the redeployment of Gerrard to a left-sided slot from which he is given freedom to roam.
"I think football is about relationships on the pitch, different areas of the field, and because Fabio has given me more of a licence to get forward from the left and go inside, he wants me to link with Wayne," Gerrard confirmed. "It's easy to link with top players and I think the form he is in at the moment, everyone in the country is hoping he can move it on into the World Cup. If he does, I'm confident we can do well."
Dealing with the disappointment
A notoriously moody character, Gerrard admits it has been hard to cope with the overwhelming sense of anti-climax engendered by Liverpool's problems this season. "It was a massive disappointment after finishing second the previous season," he said. "The challenge for me then was can we go one step further, but this season we took steps backwards. It's been very difficult, both personally and for everyone in the squad."
Linking up with his England team-mates -- including Jamie Carragher, whom he helped persuade to return to the national squad -- in the serene environment of the Austrian Alps has helped lift Gerrard's spirits. And he is counting on the pre-tournament adrenalin to really start kicking in when England take on Mexico at Wembley on Monday in their penultimate friendly before flying to South Africa.
"Once you start training, you get talking to the lads and the banter starts flying and people start talking about World Cups that helps you put what's happened at club level firmly behind you," he said. "That's gone now, there's nothing I can do to change what happened this season. It's getting close now and I'm excited."