Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One-Man Whirlwind Holds Key; Passion of Gerrard Can Lift England and Inspire Team-Mates to Conquer Euro Foes

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One-Man Whirlwind Holds Key; Passion of Gerrard Can Lift England and Inspire Team-Mates to Conquer Euro Foes

Article excerpt

Byline: IAN CHADBAND

STEVEN GERRARD was asked how it felt to now be England's main man, their inspiration, and he said he didn't like it. It wasn't about him, he protested, but the team. His modest, mature responses in front of a battalion of cameramen irresistibly reminded you of someone. It could have been Jonny Wilkinson with a Scouse accent.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking but Gerrard these days really does stand out as a footballer so beyond the ordinary that, just as Wilkinson did in Australia last November, you would love to believe his rare brand of talent, energy, passion and commitment could help elevate his team to a new plane.

Why not? Wonderful things have been stirring in English sport over the past year. If it wasn't beating the world at rugby, it was the cricket men's historic triumph in the Caribbean and the latest win over New Zealand which suggests they're our best team for years. Or how about Tim Henman's outlandish run to the semis in the French Open prompting even more pre-Wimbledon dreaming than usual?

For all the enjoyment and pride engendered by those successes, though, nothing would surely compare to the almost unimaginable pleasure of a first major championship trophy for the national football team since 1966.

Granted, England's dismal history in the European Championship militates against over-optimism but when the latest edition kicks off in Porto tomorrow with a game between hosts Portugal and Greece, it will launch a tournament which, should the outstanding French favourites misfire as in Japan, could be won by any one of half-a-dozen other teams. Including England.

After Kevin Keegan's shambolic bunch departed Euro 2000 so tamely, it seemed just another illustration of the time-honoured gap between the massive hype in English football and the reality of constant lack of success of its national team. Yet though the hype has only got worse, there now at least seem grounds for optimism that Sven-Goran Eriksson has fashioned a team which could go rather further to living up to it.

The key difference is that Gerrard will not be left rotting on the bench as in Charleroi, nor left forlornly watching a World Cup campaign on the TV.

Contenders need individual champions on the highest stage; English rugby had Wilkinson and now English football has its own complete player who is seemingly as happy crashing into the tackle as when he's galloping at the heart of opposition defences with breathtaking power and directness.

How can we rely on him to be this champion? Because he's never stopped all year. Many of the star names in this tournament have had dismal seasons.

Pavel Nedved, Michael Ballack, Raul . . . even the peerless Zinedine Zidane comes here after one of his poorest club campaigns.

Yet Gerrard? …

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