MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — Many footballers would struggle to recover from a lapse that cost his team the league title. After a difficult few weeks, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s mind is clear of the anguish and ready to lead England at the World Cup.
“I have moved on,” Gerrard said ahead of Saturday’s Group D opener against Italy. “I am in a great place mentally, physically, I feel strong and I believe I can go and perform.”
Less than two months ago, Liverpool had one hand on the Premier League trophy until Gerrard slipped in a crucial game against Chelsea and the London club went on to win at Anfield. Manchester City then pipped Liverpool to the title by two points.
“It drove me mad for a few nights, a few weeks, it was a big moment and went against me,” Gerrard recalled. “It would have driven me crazier if it was a mistake and I had lost a man at a corner or not prepared properly.
“If I made a genuine error that was my fault I would have struggled to recover from it, but everyone in the world has slipped. Whether it is on a football pitch, a curb or a wet floor. It is one of those things that you cannot control. It is a freak incident that happens.”
Given Gerrard’s contribution in midfield throughout the season, thriving in a deeper role, you’d struggle to find anyone in Liverpool blaming him.
“My form over the whole season got stronger and stronger and certainly when I move back into the controlling role I have been really happy with my form and my consistency,” Gerrard said. “It has been up there with some of the best football I have played. Of course what happened against Chelsea was a setback for me personally but when you play at the top you are under pressure every single game.”
And in the pressure cauldron, mistakes happen.
“I am human, I am normal,” he said. “I haven’t been too hard on myself. I would rather be in the position to be shot down than be underneath and out of the way; underneath the level of the Premier League and underneath international football. I would much rather be out there and take the responsibility to be shot down.”
At 34, Gerrard is the father figure in the England squad, the leader on the pitch and in the dressing room. In South Africa four years ago, Gerrard only wore the captain’s armband by default because Rio Ferdinand injured his knee during England’s first training session.
“I feel like the real captain now of this group,” Gerrard said.
And if Gerrard plays the three group stage games and England reaches the round of 16, Gerrard will win his 115th cap, matching David Beckham’s appearance record for an outfield player. The focus now is on Italy, and making a winning start in the humidity of Manaus before facing Uruguay and Costa Rica.
“The key is just to not come off the pitch with any regrets,” he said. “We have to be cute, clever and experienced. Yes, we can go and attack and show tempo, pace and try and hunt them down and win the ball.
“But will be times in the game when it will be tough on the legs and tough on the lungs and we are going to have to get the shout out for the squad to be close, narrow and hard to beat. That is just common sense.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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