The last three months have been very significant for England captain Steven Gerrard. After leading his country out against Sweden to reach his 100-cap milestone in November, he was honoured by the Football Writers’ Association at their tribute dinner last month and then chosen by the fans as their England Player of the Year.
And when you look at the stats, it’s easy to see why the Liverpool midfielder has scooped his latest prize for a second time.
The 32-year-old led from the front in ten out of his eleven games in 2012 after Roy Hodgson gave his former club skipper the armband, while no other outfielder played more minutes for England. And he had an outstanding tournament in Poland and Ukraine as England’s key creator, making two assists and laying on eight chances, the best of all Three Lions stars. Only his old Reds team mate, Alvaro Arbeloa of Spain, won more tackles at the Finals, and when it came to passing, his completion rate also topped the Thee Lions leaderboard.
Gerrard is now one of three players – Rooney and Lampard are the others – who have won the England Player of the Year award twice since it was first handed out in 2003. His exploits in 2007 were enough to convince the Three Lions faithful then and he admits that winning the prize voted for by the supporters means as much as any other accolade.
“The fans put a lot of money into supporting their team and going all over the place,” said Gerrard. “They love the country and love international football. To get their recognition means you must be doing your job properly and it’s a fantastic feeling.
“Of all the individual awards I’ve got throughout my career, it’s the ones from the fans that have always meant more because they are the people who pay their money and are committed to their team, so it means a lot.”
But the awards and the records – he became only the sixth England centurion 12 years after making his debut against Ukraine – are all a far cry from what a young ‘Stevie G’ ever thought would be possible when he missed out on his first chance to pull on the Three Lions.
Growing up on the outskirts of Liverpool, Gerrard’s earliest memories of playing the game were out on the street with his football-mad family until he was old enough to sign up for his first team. It was a long, and sometimes uneven, road that would eventually lead him to Anfield, the Champions League Final and the England captaincy.
“We used to live on a council estate with some waste ground at the top of the road and when the weather was decent enough to get outside, we’d get the ball out and have a game amongst ourselves,” he remembers.
“I wanted to play for my local side, Whiston Juniors, from about six, but I was still too young and had to be patient. But they were my first team, and in those days we didn’t have any real positions, it was just a case of going to play.
“I’ve just always loved the game. I come from a football family, my dad, my uncles, my older brothers, they were all football mad. They all wanted to play at whatever level they could.”
After joining Liverpool as a nine-year-old, he eventually made it into the England reckoning at youth level, but was left disappointed after missing out his chance to play for his country as a 14-year-old. “My first experience with England was heartbreak. I didn’t make it into the U15 side that played on Sky, I was so upset not to get into the squad, that experience drove me on to make sure I got to the top. That knock-back, as well as seeing some of my friends like Michael Owen, Michael Ball, Wes Brown, all get in, when I didn’t, that really spurred me on.
“There have been times when I never thought I’d play for England, so to win 100 caps is an unbelievable achievement for me and my family. When I’m an old man, my family can see my name up alongside the likes of those who have already passed 100 caps. That’s the touching thing for me.
“It was a proud moment. I was just as excited playing my 100th game for England as I was my first. I’m feeling fresh so hopefully there are many more caps for me to come.”
Gerrard is now a pivotal figure in the England dressing room and will lead them during The FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations. He admits that being the main man for his country is all he ever dreamed.
“Playing for England full-stop is one of the best experiences a footballer can get. It’s one of the highlights of your career. I’m in such a fortunate position to be playing for my local club as captain every week, but then to add to that I’m playing for England too, and leading them out in big games and major tournaments. It sounds a cliché but I’m really living the dream.
“I’ve had to work so hard to get this captaincy. I always wanted to be in this position and now that I’m here I want to make the most of it. To be captain during The FA’s 150th anniversary is fantastic and a real honour.”
In this special year Gerrard and his team mates can look forward to a series of games that will hopefully see them qualify for the 2014 World Cup. And what better way to kick it off than against the hosts Brazil before the Three Lions travel then to Rio in June for a return match.
“If you have to pick one fixture as an international player, it would be against Brazil,” said Gerrard. “They are the major force of international football and have been very successful. The first top Brazilian side that I saw was in 1994, the team that won the World Cup in USA. Romario was the top man.
“They had some great players in various positions, but it was Romario and Bebeto who were scoring all the goals. I remember doing a sweep in school and I ended up getting Brazil, so they did well for me.”
Gerrard added: “To go over there and get a taste of Brazil and get a feel for what it might be like if we qualify for the World Cup will be a great experience for this team. To play them twice in the space of just a few months will be a big test, but they are games all the players are looking forward to.”
So are we Steven, so are we…