Gerrard's best position for club and country remains open to debate
Twenty years ago, it would have been obvious what
Think of his goals
The player he most recalled in style was
In terms of trophies, Gerrard has actually been more successful than Robson, but he, like
The problems are twofold: practical and theoretical. Very simply, box-to-box players are slipping out of fashion for the same reason wingbacks are; because they cover a huge amount of ground, they have to be fitter than everybody else, and with improvements in general fitness and sports nutrition and the increase in the pace of the game, the number of players who can cope with the physical demands of the role is decreasing. Gerrard is one who still can, but there must be a tactical framework to accommodate him.
The liberalization of the offside law has also had a huge impact. Since the interpretation of what constitutes interfering with play was altered in favor of the forward in 2005, it has become harder and harder for teams to play an aggressive offside trap (as a measure of that, the number of offsides per Premier League game fell from 7.9 to 4.9 between the 1998-99 season and 2008-09). That means teams are defending deeper, and that in turn stretches the effective playing area from around 50 yards to about 70 yards, which in turn means that those players whose job is to charge up and down have to cover more ground (in that regard, box-to-box was always something of a misnomer; "defensive-line-to-defensive-line" would have been far more accurate).
Improvements in fitness and the change in the laws have both contributed to tactical changes in the game, but so too has the realization that using two holding midfielders allows a side to include three creators plus a striker in a 4-2-3-1. As the World Cup showed, that setup has replaced 4-4-2 as a near-universal default. In such a system, there is no place for the box-to-box player. Midfield has been split into, broadly speaking, holding and creative roles. Of course, there are variations within that:
But where does Gerrard fit? Even in conservative England, the World Cup brought an acceptance that sending out the players in good old 4-4-2 and expecting them to sort it out isn't really enough, and that in turn has led to a slew of debate about Gerrard's "best position." But even that seems an oddly English way of looking at the problem.
"I can't believe that in England they don't teach young players to be multifunctional,"
The temptation, following the paradigm of the late Robson, was always to see Gerrard as a holding midfielder who got forward to score the odd goal, but former Liverpool manager
The decisive game in his thinking was probably Liverpool's Champions League quarterfinal with Juventus in 2005. Liverpool won the first leg at Anfield 2-1 but Gerrard missed the second leg in Turin with a thigh strain. There was much anguish in the media, but Alonso and
But if Gerrard lacks the tactical discipline to be a holding midfielder, he also lacks the guile to be a playmaker. His game is about power and endeavor, not subtlety. By using Alonso as a holder, Benitez was able to provide enough guile to use Gerrard off a front man in his 4-2-3-1. When Alonso left, though, Liverpool were rendered predictable.
Against Bulgaria on Friday, with Capello reverting to a more orthodox 4-4-2, Gerrard was back in the middle alongside