Roy Hodgson has been applauded for his decision-making so far in England’s successful Euro 2012 campaign – but his most important one came back in May.
After months of speculation and conjecture about who would be Fabio Capello’s successor, the FA turned to West Brom head coach Hodgson, leaving Harry Redknapp and a host of tabloid journalists with their heads in their hands.
The former Fulham boss took over the Three Lions reins from caretaker manager Stuart Pearce, who had named Scott Parker as his captain for a friendly with Holland at Wembley.
Hodgson has clearly consigned his nightmare on Anfield Road to history, though, as his first big move as England manager was to hand the armband to Steven Gerrard, ringing him personally to share the news.
“I was disappointed not to skipper against Holland. Stuart Pearce said I wasn’t going to be captain and I thought that was it,” said the Liverpool skipper last month.
“That’s why it was so nice and I enjoyed the phone call I got off Roy Hodgson.”
Despite being revered not just on Merseyside but around the world, Gerrard had always played second fiddle at international level, often being played out of position and standing behind John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in the captaincy pecking order.
But Hodgson has followed Rafa Benitez’s lead in building his team around Gerrard, even completely removing Manchester United veteran Ferdinand from the squad equation to ensure he was the main man in the dressing room.
“It feels like the first time I’ve been official captain,” added the 32-year-old. “All the other times, I’ve known the armband was going to go back, either after the tournament or individual games. It’s very nice and good for my confidence and belief as well.”
Lady Luck has also played a role in Hodgson’s choices, however, with the withdrawals of injured midfielders Frank Lampard (thigh) and Gareth Barry (stomach strain) removing a serious headache for the England gaffer.
Hodgson stated on taking the national team reins that he wanted to ‘respect’ the players who had helped England qualify for this summer’s showpiece.
And one of the main downfalls of Fabio Capello’s era was his failure to outline who made up his first-choice midfield.
The absence of Barry and Lampard means our back-up options are limited, but it has ensured that a central combination of Gerrard and Parker are the undisputed engine room – and their partnership is visibly growing as each game goes by.
According to Opta stats on the English Premier League Index, Gerrard has made more tackles than any of his team-mates, had the most shots on target, created the most chances and made the most attempted passes in the attacking third, with Parker hot on his heels in most categories.
Then there is those three crosses which have set up goals for Joleon Lescott, Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney, adding a finished product to his eye-catching displays.
Gerrard is in dreamland right now, admitting: “I’m sitting here as England captain. It’s fantastic. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
And next in his sights are Cesare Prandelli’s tough Italian outfit, England’s opponents in Sunday’s quarter-final in Kiev.
France playmaker Yohan Cabaye said before the Group D opener: “Steven Gerrard is a very powerful and inspirational player, a leader.
“He is the soul of this team, the captain, and will be like a king.”
And Italy star Daniele De Rossi admits Gerrard “has always been my idol – he is among the best in the world”.
So whether England win or lose Sunday’s last-eight encounter, the future is bright under Hodgson and Gerrard, who at 32 can still lead for a few years yet.
Long live the ‘king’.