It is fully a decade now since Kevin Keegan handed Steven Gerrard his first England cap a day after his 20th birthday. The Liverpool midfielder’s international bow, on 31 May 2000 against Ukraine, came shortly before UEFA EURO 2000, where Gerrard had a fleeting taste of the action as a substitute in the 1-0 win over Germany.
It was in his next appearance against the Germans, in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in Munich in September 2001, that the Liverpudlian underlined his prodigious talent with a typically spectacular first goal for his country. With the sides level at 1-1 approaching half-time, Gerrard unleashed a rocket shot past Oliver Kahn, sending England on their way to a remarkable 5-1 success.
Unfortunately for Gerrard he missed the subsequent 2002 finals through injury so instead had to wait until UEFA EURO 2004 for his first chance to really make his mark on a major tournament. He had captained his country for the first time against Sweden shortly before those finals and in Portugal was an ever present, scoring in a 3-0 group-stage win over Switzerland.
A one-club man, Gerrard resisted Chelsea’s overtures that same summer and was rewarded with arguably the greatest moment of his career in 2004/05, when he played a crucial role in Liverpool’s unlikely UEFA Champions League triumph. It took an explosive, late strike from Gerrard against Olympiacos in December 2004 just to prolong Liverpool’s interest beyond the group stage. Five months later he played a prominent role in a stunning comeback in the Istanbul final against AC Milan, heading the first goal as Liverpool retrieved a 3-0 deficit before prevailing on penalties.
Gerrard – third in the Ballon D’Or vote in 2005 – further enhanced his status as Liverpool’s Captain Fantastic with another heroic strike in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham United, firing in an improbable injury-time volley from over 30 metres to salvage a 3-3 draw and set up another shootout success.
His scoring rate soaring, Gerrard found the net 22 times for Liverpool that season, earning the PFA Player of the Year award. He took that form into the FIFA World Cup in Germany, netting in group games against Trinidad and Tobago and Sweden but, unfortunately, was one of three players foiled by Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo when England succumbed in another shoot-out in the quarter-finals.
A dynamic, driving presence in midfield, Gerrard, who should pass the 80-cap mark in England’s warm-up matches – has the versatility to operate out wide, as has regularly been the case in his England career. For Liverpool he has featured in recent times as a second-striker behind Fernando Torres – and to no greater effect than in 2008/09 when he struck a career-best 24 goals in all competitions to help the Reds to a runners-up spot in the Premier League.
Though Liverpool finished empty-handed, his superb contribution earned him the English Football Writers’ Player of the Year prize. If less prolific in the 2009/10 campaign, Gerrard will hope to be at his inspirational best for his country in South Africa.