Steven Gerrard launched a new era for England against Hungary at Wembley and then immediately paid tribute to David Beckham, whose international career has been ended by Fabio Capello.
Gerrard saved England from defeat in their first match since a disastrous World Cup, scoring twice in a 2-1 friendly win after Hungary had gone ahead through a disputed own goal from Phil Jagielka.
But afterwards the talk was as much about Capello’s decision that Beckham is too old to take part in England’s Euro 2012 campaign, even when he has fully recovered from an Achilles injury that prevented him playing in the World Cup.
Capello’s comments may well have come as a shock to Beckham, who has always insisted he has no intention of retiring from international football and is currently battling back to full fitness with LA Galaxy.
But captain Gerrard refused to criticise his manager, who has already been accused of poor communication after Paul Robinson and Wes Brown both retired from international football just 24 hours after being included in the Italian’s new-look squad this week
“I don’t know whether Fabio has spoken to David, that’s a question you will have to direct to Fabio Capello,” said Gerrard.
“But David can hold his head up high with the service he’s given to his country and I’m sure the fans will remember him as a legend.
“He’s put in a long shift in as an England player, he’s produced some fantastic performances, some fantastic goals.
“He’s given us so many memories and he was also a fantastic captain, I’ve learned a lot playing under him and it’s been a pleasure to play alongside him.
“If he has played his last game he’ll be missed because both on and off the pitch he’s a great guy.”
Beckham, of course, has seen his England obituary written several times before – not least when he was jettisoned by Steve McClaren following the 2006 World Cup – and Gerrard says no-one should rule him out for good.
“You never know with David,” he insisted. “I’m sure when he hears that news it will drive him on and he’ll try and prove people wrong and try and get back in the set-up because I know he loves playing for England.”
Gerrard showed similar characteristics against Hungary with a Beckhamesque performance that saved England from what would have been a hugely damaging defeat.
When Jagielka inadvertently handed Hungary the lead with a deflection that television cameras showed never crossed the line, England, who had already been booed off the field at half-time, were in deep trouble.
But Gerrard equalised with a thunderous effort and then jinked his way to a winner, celebrating each goal with an outpouring of raw emotion that left no-one in any doubt about how much he cared.
The Liverpool midfielder said: “The players have had a lot of criticism of late, a lot of it fair and some of it unfair because people have said we don’t care and it means nothing to us to play for England.
“That’s not true. I think by my reaction for the first goal you can see what it means.
“Just playing for England is a special feeling and to score an equaliser and a winner in a difficult situation was a fantastic feeling.”
The good news for England was that some of the players introduced by Capello, in particular Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, Aston Villa winger Ashley Young and goalkeeper Joe Hart, did enough to suggest they are real options for the future.
“It did feel like a new era because there were a lot of new faces and I thought the young guys were superb,” insisted Gerrard after his team were eventually cheered off the field.
“It’s been a difficult time. After the disappointment of the World Cup there was a lot of pressure on the lads to win the game and put in a performance. I thought we handled it really well.”