Rio De Janeiro: In the space of only 55 days, England captain Steven Gerrard has seen his dreams of late-career glory with club and country slither through his fingers in acutely painful fashion.
After the trauma of Liverpool’s home-straight collapse in the Premier League title race, the 34-year-old met with fresh heartbreak at the World Cup yesterday when Italy’s 1-0 loss to Costa Rica condemned England to an embarrassing group-phase exit.
In an unfortunate harbinger of what was to come, Gerrard’s words before England’s 2-1 loss to Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday prophesied the misery that now awaits him in the aftermath of his side’s elimination.
He spoke of “a terrible, long, frustrating summer if we don’t get it right” and said that early elimination from a major tournament “can take an awful long time to get over”.
It is not the first time that Gerrard’s words have returned to haunt him this year.
Following a stirring 3-2 win over Manchester City on April 27 that left Liverpool on course for the Premier League title, he was caught on camera passionately rallying his team-mates with the cry: “This does not slip!”
Two weeks later, it was a freak slip from Gerrard that let in Chelsea striker Demba Ba for a goal that decisively took the momentum in the title race away from Anfield and back towards City.
In another unfortunate case of deja vu, Gerrard was twice the source of England’s undoing against Uruguay.
He supplied plenty of assists for Luis Suarez over the course of the Premier League campaign, but the Uruguayan could not have expected his club-mate’s generosity to continue in Brazil.
Gerrard was at fault for both of Suarez’s goals at the Corinthians Arena, giving the ball away in the build-up to his first and then inadvertently flicking a long punt from Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera into his path for the second.
They were head-in-hands moments to rank alongside the blind back-pass to France’s Thierry Henry at Euro 2004, which allowed Zinedine Zidane to score a decisive injury-time penalty, and his unsuccessful spot-kick in the quarter-final shootout against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup.
Reborn as a deep-lying organiser, Gerrard enjoyed something of an Indian summer in the 2013-14 season, but whereas he benefits from the support of two other central midfielders in Liverpool’s 4-3-3 system, in Brazil he has been overburdened.
In England manager Roy Hodgson’s 4-2-3-1, Gerrard has had only club-mate Jordan Henderson for company in the midfield engine room and against Uruguay it left him looking his age.
Steven Gerrard has been a wonderful servant to Liverpool Football Club and for England,” former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore told talkSPORT radio.
“We remember the Germany performance, the 5-1 (in a 2002 World Cup qualifier), and he has driven our midfield ever since he came into the side at the 2000 European Championship.
“But, for me now, I think he needs to look at himself and say perhaps he wants to extend his club career and retire from the England national scene.”
Gerrard was noncommittal on the topic of his international future after the Uruguay game, saying only “we’ll analyse the game afterwards”, but Tuesday’s match against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte looks likely to be his last in the colours of his country.
It would leave him on 114 caps — one short of David Beckham’s record for an England outfield player. Another near-miss for a player for whom 2014 had seemed destined to deliver so much.