If the Free State Stadium fiasco told us one thing about England’s future, it’s that Steven Gerrard should never be tossed the armband ever, ever again. This is a bit unfortunate for the Liverpool lad, who has more claims to the title than most, but Stevie G suffers from a major handicap when it comes to international captaincy. His face.
It’s a mush that exudes worry, pretty much all of the time. Remember the Slovenia game, and the TV pundits’ amazement at Gerrard’s post-match interview? It was because he looked genuinely chirpy and carefree. This has never happened before. Even when the European Cup was held aloft in 2005 Stevie’s head was awash with confusion: “so now I go to Chelsea?” And yes, he probably should have done. Although we would now have been talking about whether he and Frank can play together every week for five years.
You know when you’re on a flight, and the plane starts shaking a bit – what do you do? You look at the stewardess... When England looked to Gerrard, they saw a weeping stewardess.
Why were the England team so listless at this World Cup? Because when they sought out their captain during moments of difficulty, they saw a face that did anything but inspire. You know when you’re on a flight, and the plane starts shaking a bit – what do you do? You look at the stewardess. If she’s still wearing a rictus grin and trying to sell you spirits then you’re probably alright. If she’s strapped to a chair at the front, white-faced and weeping, then you may be in trouble. When England looked to Gerrard, they saw a weeping stewardess.
John Terry’s captaincy worked during the qualifiers because his face is incapable of expressing complex cerebral tasks like anguish or shame. If Wayne Rooney needed reassurance after a wayward effort, he sought out the armband and saw a kindred spirit in JT, a man happy to stick his head in where it hurts, safe in the knowledge that any damage done may actually improve his looks. This also applies to Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford.
Stevie G’s captaincy works at club level because he leads by example, being pretty much the only player at Anfield who’s any good (have you seen Torres lately? He’s another permanently worried-looking player. Liverpool does that to a person).
This is why England did well at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups only after Bryan Robson had hobbled home injured. It wasn’t because his centre-mid replacements Peter Reid and David Platt were any better – good lord no – it’s because Robson has a pair of those debilitatingly downturned eyebrows particular to people from the north east. These have clearly proved an enormous drawback for his management career, too.
John Terry’s captaincy worked during the qualifiers because his face is incapable of expressing complex cerebral tasks like anguish or shame.
The face factor is also the most plausible explanation for Fabio’s insistence on playing Gerrard on the left, rather than in the much-vaunted free role – he didn’t want him roaming around the pitch, worrying people. Remember, England’s only decent performance in South Africa was against the Slovenes, when Stevie G stayed tight to the touchline, shortly after Terry had made his big ‘I am still the leader’ speech. We all knew who was running the team that day.
So who should be the next skipper, given that Rio is always injured? It’s hard to find an England player who isn’t looking downright dejected right now, the deeply unsuitable Ashley Cole excepted, but Joe Cole is generally fairly chirpy. Joe to get the armband, then, if only to make the next manager actually pick him.