England captain Steven Gerrard is honoured to be on the verge of 100 caps
By Nicholas Veevers
Steven Gerrard will lead out England in Stockholm on Wednesday night to earn his 100th cap and reach a milestone which he describes as an ‘unbelievable achievement’.
The Liverpool midfielder made his Three Lions debut at the old Wembley Stadium back in 2000 and has since appeared in three European Championship Finals and two World Cup Finals along with many more memorable matches along the way.
But despite collecting 100 caps, the 32-year-old says he still won’t be satisfied until he’s led England to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and regardless of how many appearances he goes on to make, is still coming to terms with the landmark he’s about to reach.
He said: “It’s difficult to put into words when I speak about it.
“It’s something I never thought I’d achieve. Growing up and getting turned down at the National School at 14 and then not getting picked for England U15s, there have been times when I never thought I’d get a cap, so to be here on the eve of 100 caps, it’s an unbelievable achievement for myself and my family.
“Some of the great players that I’ve played with before haven’t got to that milestone, so it’s a very flattering achievement for myself.”
With Gerrard on the cusp of joining a very select group of players in England’s history, he is also quick to point out that he still considers being called a ‘legend’ as something unwarranted for any English player, aside from the team of 1966.
He added: “I think in football, the hero and legend status gets given out far too easily for me.
“As far as playing for England goes, there are 14 or 15 heroes and the rest haven’t really delivered.
“For myself, my family, my children and their kids when I’m an old man, they can see my name up alongside the likes of those who have already passed 100 caps and that’s the touching thing for me.”
Reflecting on how life with the national team has changed since that first cap against Ukraine 12 years ago, Gerrard believes it’s a lot harder for today’s younger players to try and make their way in the international game.
With a higher level of attention and focus from both the media and public, Gerrard knows how tough it can be and tries to make that transition as comfortable as possible for any newcomers to the squad, the most recent of which being Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha.
Gerrard said: “There’s a lot more coverage now, with social media, more cameras and more TV channels covering the game.
“It’s even bigger than when I came in, so I think it’s a lot more difficult for the young lads. Playing for England is a tough gig, but if you’re good enough, you’ll handle it, get on with it and perform.
“I’m approachable and I speak to them so that’s the first thing I do when someone’s new to the group, I’ll go to their room and speak to them.
“I know how intimidating it can be in this set-up, because it’s England and it’s new, especially for someone like Wilfried, coming up from the Championship.
“He’s not playing against these players every week and he doesn’t get chance to speak to them, so it’s slightly different for him. I spoke to him on Monday morning and told him that if he needs anything, I’m here and I think it’s important to come across to the young lads like that.
“When the likes of Alan Shearer, Tony Adams and Gareth Southgate put an arm around me and spoke to me, it made me feel a bit taller, more welcome and free. You feel comfortable in training, so that stuff helps.”
Gerrard, who says Paul Scholes is the best England player who he has played with, also believes there could be a bright future around the corner for England.
With the likes of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling amongst a number of young men leading a new generation of players, he hopes he can be a positive and leading influence over the foreseeable future.
He said: “Having the captaincy and seeing young players like Jack come about, it’s worth hanging around to carry on for a few more years and seeing if things change and we have a bit more luck.
“If we can produce more players on Jack’s level, maybe we’ve got a chance of going far in a tournament.
“For me, it’s playing for England which is still the buzz and why I’m here though. Playing away and staying in hotels, I’m not really a fan of, but it’s worth going through it to get the buzz of winning in an England shirt.
"I always go back to what my dad told me, which is that you get out of football what you put in. If you work hard, make the sacrifices and are willing to learn, if you’ve got the talent, you’ll have a good career and that’s the advice I often give.”
And Gerrard will be hoping those words will be heeded by some of his team-mates as he looks to act as inspiration for a few more potential centurions when he leads out the Three Lions in Stockholm.