Flair midfielders are as varied as they are valued. You can discuss the merits of anyone from Hoddle to Rivaldo, as there is no fixed position for the role. Perhaps the only qualification is the ability to turn a match from deep with a piece of individual brilliance. Paul Gascoigne and Steven Gerrard are two driving forces who could influence a match in any number of ways and two of England’s most renowned flair midfielders in the last quarter century. Anyone over the age of 30 will remember Paul Gascoigne’s tears at Italia ‘90 – born of frustration at a yellow card that would have eliminated him from participating in the World Cup Final that England came agonisingly short of reaching. Everyone watching shared the disappointment of this brilliant and charismatic midfielder who had done so much to inspire England to the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1966.
Kick starting his career in 1988 against Denmark, Paul Gascoigne was one of the most gifted players on the planet and played 57 times over 10 eventful years. Whether it was surging runs, breathtaking trickery or thunderbolt shooting – the lad from Gateshead could do it all. Hehas been up there withany top England player, exemplifying his excellence with his goal against Scotland at Euro ‘96. Thereare always going to be ‘what if?’ questions with his career, but many fans are just happy they saw him at his peak in an England shirt.
Thought of as more of a complete modern footballer by fans, Steven Gerrard is perhaps not as obviously dazzling as Gazza. The Football Writers Association ‘Footballer of the Year’ in 2009 and a talisman for Liverpool in much the same way John Barnes was before him, his range of skills is hugely impressive.
Be it box-to-box, out wide, playing behind the strikers or sitting in a more defensive position – he can fill whatever role is asked of him and has done so regularly for England. His talent is obvious, when you also regard his capacity for scoring spectacular and vital goals. By the end of 2007-08, he had passed 300 Premier League, and made his Premier League debut at 18. In 2005, he delivered a spectacular performance in Istanbul, inspiring Liverpool to Champions League victory from three goals down. Earninghim the highest, he has been able to work his way to status with his brilliant accomplishments.
In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he scored two and featured in the European Finals of 2000 and 2004, proving him as England’s top scorer. He was the first player to be handed the armband by Fabio Capello for his first game in charge against the Swiss, and skippered the side for the first time in Sweden in March 2004. Winning his 75th cap in the Slovenia friendly, in September 2009 was also a career highlight.
There is not an England fan who is not hoping Steven Gerrard plays to his potential in South Africa, in which he could well surpass the World Cup career of his predecessor Gazza.