England captain Steven Gerrard admits to feeling like a man under siege as he prepares to lead his team into a UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland here on Tuesday desperately trying to keep the focus on football.
The match is potentially the pivotal fixture in Group G after England beat Bulgaria 4-0 in their opening game and could be the start of a post-World Cup revival for Fabio Capello’s side that helps heal the still-smarting wounds of South Africa.
But instead of talking about qualification in the build-up to the crucial fixture both Gerrard and Capello have found themselves distracted by the private life of star striker Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United man has been the subject of a tabloid newspaper expose that claims he cheated on wife Coleen by sleeping with a prostitute.
There has been no official response from the Rooney camp so far but the story refuses to go away and comes hot on the heels of John Terry’s alleged affair with the girlfriend of former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge and front page headlines about the sex life of left-back Ashley Cole, who has now been divorced from pop star wife Cheryl.
Add in court cases, super injunctions, gagging orders and WAGs (the wives and girlfriends) and it’s easy to see why some critics feel the celebrity bubble and media circus surrounding England is the cause of so many of their problems.
Certainly it doesn’t make answering questions in pre-match press conferences any easier, so no wonder Gerrard, who also had to deal with the boos of angry supporters following a disappointing World Cup, has a sense of being under siege.
“At times, it can be like that,” he admitted.
“When you’re wanting to spend time with your family and you’re out and about, and you’ve got cameramen following you in your car and you are getting that kind of attention it can feel sometimes as if you are hard done by.
“But we’re playing football at the top level, and you have to realise how important football is for people.
“Then you have to accept it. But it is frustrating sometimes when you are preparing for a big game and it seems as if people are only interested in that story at the time.
“For me, the important thing is we’ve got an important game tomorrow, a tough game, and it’s a game the players and I want to win, and it’s important we shift our focus on to that now.”
Gerrard, in fact, has been England’s most outstanding player in recent months despite the pressure heaped on his shoulders.
He scored the opening goal of their World Cup campaign in South Africa, scored twice to save England on their return to Wembley against Hungary and was outstanding in last week’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria.
And despite all the traumas he bristled when it was suggested he should be desperate to hand the captain’s armband back to first choice Rio Ferdinand, who is currently injured.
“I’ve really loved leading the team out, every minute of it, even the games we’ve lost,” he said.
“I’ve been proud to lead the team out. I’ve given everything I’ve got and, even when Rio’s back as captain, I will continue to lead by example and try and do the best I can.”
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