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Arun Pradeep
Wednesday, February 06, 2013 at 19 : 04

Steven Gerrard still pushing boundaries at 32


The tyro with a buzz cut took off from near the middle of the pitch.

He ran across the turf in a sharp semicircle, as if boxing in the opposition goalkeeper inside an imaginary arc. His head was bowed, before he gradually raised it as he swerved to his right, like Usain Bolt when opening up his stride at the bend in the 200m.

He stretched out his arm in acknowledgement of the delirious crowd, before collapsing in a heap of English bodies near the corner flag.

Steven Gerrard had scored his first international goal.

It was quite a strike. Taking advantage of a bad clearance from German defenders, Gerrard had let fly from just outside the box, leaving Oliver Kahn, no less, flailing to his right as the ball found the net. Gerrard was 21 then.

After Liverpool won an incredible Champions League final in 2005, bouncing back from 0-3 down at half-time against AC Milan to eventually win on penalties, he was asked if that was the best day of his life. The man who posed the question was Gerard Houllier, the French manager who had managed Liverpool in the seasons immediately preceding the Champions League victory. No, he was told. The best day of his career, Gerrard told Houllier, was the day the Frenchman handed him the captain's armband at Liverpool, in 2003. Gerrard had been 23 then.

The Liverpool and England captain is pushing 33 now, the bulk of his career behind him. Except for one major title, he's won pretty much everything there is to win at club level. He'd love a Premiership championship medal, but he knows his legacy is already secure.

He can take it easy, but he won't. Against English champions Manchester City on Sunday, Gerrard made one and scored another of Liverpool's two goals. The strike that came off his boot was a spitting image of his goal against Germany all those years ago at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. A clumsy clearance, chested down just outside the box and a sent crashing back past the 'keeper's right into the net.

And then the run. The head was still bowed as he charged away from converging team-mates. On and away, in another sharp arc, before his face emerged to reveal a fine Scouse grin. The arms were raised like a glider's. And who could deny Stevie Gerrard was flying?

"He's rolled back the years here, Steven Gerrard!" a commentator exclaimed. A BBC man agreed. "That's a cracker of a shot".

"Steven is a unique player," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had said before the City match. "Unfortunately, I can't say that without him we would be all right, because I don't believe we would."

Gerrard will line up tomorrow for England in what will only be his second outing against Brazil. England have played the Canaries fairly frequently since the turn of the century - Wednesday will be their fifth meeting since 2000, with one competitive fixture among that - but Gerrard has played in only one so far. His last match against Brazil was in 2007, an excellent showing in a 1-1 friendly in what was the first match hosted at the new Wembley stadium.

John Terry had led England that day. He marked the occasion by converting a David Beckham free-kick into the net to give England the lead. Brazil had equalised in the final seconds of the game to wrench a draw, but Gerrard had impressed in managing, to a large extent, to put the brakes on a side containing Ronaldinho and Kaka.

As age creeps up on him, Gerrard has been played deeper down the field by both his club and national managers, Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson respectively. He has lost his electric pace, but Gerrard has looked after his body: there doesn't seem to be an ounce of fat on him. He can still make dangerous runs into the opposition box and often does. The goals have dried up in the past couple of seasons, but the assists have gone up. Gerrard's austere showing was so effective during Euro 2012 that he was named in UEFA's team of the tournament, the only Englishman to be accorded the honour.

By a quirk of fate, Gerrard has now led England in two major international tournaments without being first choice captain, being offered the position only after suspension/injury/ban ruled out other contenders. Now that he is finally the preferred choice as captain, one does hope he replicates his club form for his country on a consistent basis.

Even after all these years, his haircut hasn't changed all that much. The face is more lined, a constant frown quickly replaces any goal celebration, and one hand always seems to rest on his hips, like a standing rebuke to people to "just get going. There's a football match to be won." But the hair, if anything, is only a shade longer.

And the run. We know that run.


More about Arun Pradeep

Arun Pradeep is a sports journalist who has covered international cricket and tennis events. A keen follower of European football and enthusiastic blogger, he has written extensively on the sport for the New Indian Express. His biggest dream is to see AC Milan play Newcastle United in the Champions League final with both teams sharing the trophy. Against better judgement and despite nebulous prospects, Arun firmly believes a writer's life is the best there is, even if his mom ends up footing the bills, as she often does.