A month after England's humiliating exit at the 2010 World Cup, Paul Scholes was asked about the phone call he received from Fabio Capello asking if he would come out of retirement for the tournament. Jamie Carragher, eager to work under the Italian, had already acquiesced to end his three-year international exile. Scholes only had two hours to decide whether he would rather spend time with his wife and four children or be holed up in Rustenburg with the England squad. He declined the invitation.
"I am not saying I would have made a difference," the Manchester United midfielder explained a month later. "I am saying I might have made the wrong decision."
Steven Gerrard has made plenty of wrong decisions with England but he now has the chance to make a right one, albeit belatedly. His 100th cap against Sweden was greeted with eulogies beforehand and will likely be acknowledged at the next Wembley international, but the Liverpool midfielder should not be stood in his kit waiting to receive his golden cap.
One journalist last week described Gerrard as "great for Liverpool, good for England". Although superfluous to argue the first half of that statement, the latter is open to debate. In five major tournaments Gerrard has underperformed in all but one.
Yet Graeme Souness described him as England's "most influential player over the last decade". For a usually excellent pundit, this was gibberish from the Scot. If we're taking that statement at face value, the most influential player is John Terry, for he caused an England coach to resign, an England player to retire from international duty and acted as if he was the most powerful player within the squad at a World Cup. Now that's an influence!
Rio Ferdinand, supreme at the 2006 World Cup, David Beckham and, seriously, Michael Owen have all been superior for England than Gerrard over the past 10 years. The aforementioned trio can claim to have had great games in an England shirt, whereas Gerrard can't.
Logically, he should not have got near three-figures in appearances. Synonymous with, and culpable for, the golden generation's pathetic failures, he found himself shoehorned into starting XIs time and again with Frank Lampard. One had to be dropped but rarely did an England coach display the courage to do so and the duo would continue to subordinate one another. Gerrard is a better footballer and midfielder than Lampard, but his performances for England have not merited his omnipresence under four coaches and 11 years since he became a regular under Sven-Göran Eriksson.
At this summer's European Championship, he lead England commendably and opined it was "probably my best tournament", but has since admitted he still considered whether he should retire after the finals. Gerrard even said on the eve of the Sweden friendly his international career was a 6/10, which is an accurate assessment of his 12 years with England.
His milestone has also masked his form for club and country. Gerrard has not scored for England in over two years and has performed woefully for Liverpool this season. When Lucas Leiva returns from injury next month, it is Gerrard, rather than Joe Allen or Nuri Sahin, who deserves to be demoted. Pedants will say he boasts an 83.5% passing accuracy, but that only underlines how worthless stats are in football. The naked eye will tell you his possession play has regressed.
Scholes was 31 when he made the conscious decision to alter his game. After nearly five months on the sidelines with a mysterious eye injury, he returned to United's lineup to become the team's regista when previously he could have been described, although not in the classical sense, as a trequartista. He had finally accepted his body's limitations after a poor 2005-06 season but shone as United played some of their best football under Sir Alex Ferguson in the first half of the following campaign.
Gerrard's shortcomings are owed to his failure to adapt. Still he perseveres with the blood-and-thunder box-to-box marauding which was his trademark between 2004 and 2009. The predicament is his body now restricts this, which makes his style stubborn as well as ineffective.
That Ferguson was delighted Scholes chose to come out of retirement and has since come to rely on him to an embarrassing degree is nevertheless a compliment to the player's intelligence on the ball. For Gerrard, not averse to pinging those Hollywood balls Scholes excels at, it is not too late to learn from his one-time international colleague and make the transition into a dictator. Only with Liverpool.
Does Roy Hodgson seriously expect the 32-year-old, who still played laboriously at the Euros, to have an effect in Brazil in under two years? Gerrard will be 34 come the South American finals when the heat, let alone the opponents, will take their toll and he now risks becoming another Beckham. The autocratic Capello awarded Beckham freebie caps when he was rubbing shoulders with A-listers and scientologists (and playing the odd game of shoddy-standard football). The parallels in the Hodgson-Gerrard axis are in their infancy but are developing.
England managers go into the job as respectable individuals but emerge with a reputation in tatters, having supped from the poison chalice and disintegrated like Julian Glover in The Last Crusade. Hodgson has already succumbed to the side-effects of being an England manager from his "football reasons" for not picking Rio Ferdinand and selecting Terry to then saying he "hoped" Terry would be cleared for calling Anton Ferdinand a "f*****g black c**t". He has sullied his gentlemanly image.
And on the pitch, England are not making headway. Jurassic tactics, an inability to retain possession and persevering with relics are auspicious signs for Gerrard if he is to surpass Peter Shilton's record of 135 caps. But as a footballer renowned for his honesty, he must acknowledge it is time to walk away and concentrate on staying in the Liverpool team. It would be the right decision.
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