Gerrard should bow out for England
Steven Gerrard is a broken man, but not yet a beaten one. Retirement offers him a dignified way out.
Watching the England skipper mumble his way through a press conference yesterday morning (Singapore time) was a dispiriting experience.
He muttered positive words, but his eyes were the obvious windows into a damaged soul.
He looked lost.
The England skipper was largely spared a Spanish Inquisition. He needed a hug not an interrogation. He was a wounded animal eager to limp away to a quiet sanctuary.
The 34-year-old has been hurt before but these cuts go deeper. He can only cauterise by removing himself from England's perennial suffering. He doesn't need to sustain the pain. He can walk away.
But he's understandably struggling with the contradiction.
His elixir has always been pride; the potion that propels him forward in defiance of his own body clock. His performances at this World Cup suggest retirement. His pride will say otherwise.
"There is no truth I'll be making any announcement on my England future in the next week. I won't be rushing into any decision. It's not the right time," he said, sitting beside manager Roy Hodgson.
"I'm hurting very badly and broken from what's gone on in the last couple of weeks."
His internal conflict will eat him from the inside out. Defeats come and go, but bruised pride heals slowly. He's psychologically shattered.
Gerrard hopes he can still play Humpty Dumpty, but the role may be beyond him after 113 caps.
His tears in a Liverpool jersey after the Manchester City victory melted hearts far beyond Merseyside. But his slip against Chelsea leapt from the pages of a Shakespeare triumph. Only Rio offered redemption. The spiritual home of football was the perfect arena to atone for recent sins.
But he didn't make amends. He slipped further into mediocrity. Off the pace and often out-thought, Gerrard drifted towards the fringes of the international stage, becoming a bit part, an extra. At times, Jordan Henderson carried him against Italy and Uruguay.
Marco Verratti embarrassed him by emulating the job he used to do. Daniele De Rossi humiliated him by mastering the job he's supposed to do now.
De Rossi cleaned up at one end, Verratti made a mess of England at the other. The England skipper was left floundering in no-man's land.
Gary Lineker is right. The former England striker pinpointed not only the Three Lions' weakness along their left side against Italy, which has been well documented, but Gerrard's inability to diagnose the problem on the pitch and address it.
Against Uruguay, he failed to track the reverse runs and positional switches of Nicolas Lodeiro behind the front two, which left England's tentative centrebacks vulnerable to a counter-attack between the lines (see Luis Suarez's first goal.)
And he misjudged the speculative punt of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. Suarez didn't. Gerrard's mistimed flick-on inadvertently sent England home.
Shakespeare didn't write tragedies this cruel and sadistic.
So, the instinctive reaction to soldier on and make amends is a natural one; the only one for a sportsman of Gerrard's indomitable disposition.
He's drinking from the same psychological well here. What has driven him to become his country's most consistent central midfielder of his generation now compels him not to throw in the towel.
His DNA doesn't quit. The thought of waving a white flag is an alien concept, something he simply cannot compute. Surrender is beyond his psyche.
He's in fine, distinguished company. From Muhammad Ali to perhaps even Roger Federer, the view from the top is so alluring that the reluctance to retreat must be overwhelming. And Gerrard may feel he has an additional reason to hang on for one last desperate climb back to the summit.
His view from the top is clouded, tainted. At the peak of his profession for both club and country, he stumbled. He fell.
And he wants to step back into the light.
But the beginning of the end can also be a long tumble to the bottom. The Euro 2016 qualification campaign is no guarantee of salvation.
Besides, Henderson, Raheem Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are waiting in the wings to manage England's midfield.
Their skipper has earned the right to run his socks off against Costa Rica and bow out gracefully.
He made a mistake against Uruguay. If he avoids making any more, his legacy will endure.
Gerrard should rage against the dying of the light, but not at the expense of his dignity.