STEVEN GERRARD will join an exclusive club in Stockholm tonight when he becomes only the sixth England player to reach 100 caps.
So much has happened since Gerrard made his debut against Ukraine at Wembley in 2000, including three penalty shoot-out defeats and that astonishing 5-1 hammering of Germany in Munich, when Liverpool players, including Gerrard, scored all five goals.
Yesterday, the Reds skipper sat down at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester to look back over his international career so far.
What does reaching 100 caps mean?
It’s something I never thought I would achieve. Getting turned down at the national school (Lilleshall) at 14 and not getting picked for England Under 15s, there have been times when I thought I’d never get one cap.
That win against Germany. Because of who it was, how emphatic it was in their backyard and because it was a World Cup qualifier. It is difficult to beat that.
And you scored!
It’s up there with my favourite goals. I’ve scored 19 for England but that’s in my top three for sure. The pitch being wet helped the ball go in really quickly. Maybe if the pitch was dry it wouldn’t have gone in.
What was your reaction to the penalty shoot-out defeat at Euro 2012?
My initial thought was ‘not again’. I was confident going into the shoot-out. When our penalty takers were named I thought ‘this is us: last four’ which would have been a highlight. I felt enormous responsibility and wanted to take the first penalty. I felt if I could score. Taking a penalty in a tournament for England is a million times more difficult than taking one in a normal situation. There is a lot more pressure because of the nerves and how your body feels when you are about to take it.
Do other countries think that?
Maybe not. They haven’t experienced the disappointment we have. That’s three times now for me. I don’t think any other international player would have experienced that.
In 50 years’ time children will think about your name like they do now about Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore.
Also for me, my family, my children and their kids. When I am an old man, they can see my name up alongside the lads that have already passed 100 caps. That’s a touching thing.
For your first England squad – you took your own car...
I wasn’t aware of the set-up you have with England where you get a car to pick you up. Being a bit nervous I was more comfortable going with my own people. I still do. I don’t really use FA cars. I drive my own car or get a friend to drive me.
You used to be homesick?
I still struggle with being away for four to six weeks. I am a family man and more comfortable with people who have grown up with me. The reason I am still here is the buzz of winning in an England shirt. I am not really a fan of being away in hotels in different countries.
Was it a close call to quit?
When you are my age and have another disappointment with England it crosses your mind. But being the captain and the buzz I get from England outweighs the thought of knocking it on the head.
Tell us about the Fowler and McManaman story.
My birthday always falls when England are together – 30 May – and I travelled down to that get-together with those two. They knew it was my birthday. I came in after training and my room was upside down. I told them how carefully I’d packed my bag and how my Mum had done my undies and ironed all my socks. The next thing it was all in the bath. The stuff you get it washed with was all over the gaff. It took me about three hours straightening the room out.
What’s your advice to young players in international football?
What my dad said to me when I was eight, going to the Liverpool Centre of Excellence. You get out of football what you put in. If you work hard, make the sacrifices, are willing to learn and have the talent, you will have a good career.
Is the level of expectation greater now?
I think so because there is a lot more coverage. There are a lot more eyes, a lot more cameras and a lot more opinions.
Do you worry about the younger players now?
Some of them won’t be able to handle it – that’s a fact. Not everyone that breaks through at this level will go on to be a top international. Some will find it too hard, some won’t be good enough, some won’t work hard enough.
Is England tougher then Liverpool?
Pressure-wise, yes. You are coming into a group you are not used to playing with, there is a lot more coverage, a lot more people watching and the media are a harsh crowd. Playing for England is a tough gig but if you are good enough, you will handle it and perform.
Have you a desire to break records – Beckham, Shilton?
Not really. If it happens, great. My interest is qualifying in the next tournament. That will be job done and then I would focus on the tournament. It would be nice to get 120 caps but it is not my priority.
Are Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton still the benchmark?
Of course, they will always be heroes of mine and heroes of English football. In football, hero and legend status gets given out far too easily. As far as playing for England goes, there are maybe 14 or 15 heroes. The rest haven’t really delivered.
How do you rate your career?
If they are a 10? Six or seven.
Has England always mattered to you or were you not as bothered when younger?
That’s harsh. I have always tried to make myself available for England and given it everything. My performances haven’t always been great but that hasn’t been through not wanting to be here or a lack of effort or it not mattering as much as club football. I have always applied myself the same way for club and country. Maybe people know me better now and people can see how much it means to me. But when I used to lose with England in the early days, it hurt just as much as it does today.
Do you fancy the England manager job?
Yeah. I am going into my coaching badges after my England days have finished. I’ll only become a coach or manager if it feels I am good enough. You can’t go down that road just because you have been a decent player. That’s mistake a lot of footballers have made.
Who is the best England player you have played with?
Paul Scholes. His game is very similar to mine and I appreciate what he has got. I like him as a person and what he has done at United. To see him in training and play alongside him, you appreciate how good he is.
Zinedine Zidane. Magical feet – feet like hands.
What are your other fond memories aside from Germany?
Scoring and getting wins at tournaments, when the Barmy Army get behind you, when you see the TV and how the country completely changes on the eve of a tournament.
Your other goal highlights for England?
The volley against Macedonia at Southampton, and one where I went past three men against Hungary at Wembley.
And a bad time?
Greece, when Beckham scored the free kick. A disappointing individual performance on the back of being out a bit late. That was a bad memory.
England 2-0 UkraineMay 31, 2000
England (3-5-2): Martyn; Southgate, Adams, Campbell; Gerrard (Dyer 81), Beckham, Scholes (Barmby 73), McManaman, P Neville (Barry 73); Shearer (c), Fowler (Heskey H/T). Not used: Wright, Keown, Ferdinand, Phillips
Goals: Fowler 43, Adams 67