Sunday, 22 September 2013

Weighing in on the Gerrard, Scholes and Lampard Debate

Last week, Jamie Carragher made the claim that Steven Gerrard was a better player than Paul Scholes.  The debate rolled on, on Sky Sports Monday Night Football Show and Frank Lampard came into the mix also.

  The three are undoubtedly amongst the best midfielders England has produced.  Also three of the greatest and most memorable midfield players of the Premier League era.  They have all had impressive careers in which they have been part of winning teams and trophy wins.  It is not an entirely fair comparison as they are all very different players with their own respective strengths and weaknesses.

For much of his career, Steven Gerrard did not have the same luxury as the other two in playing in strong teams full of talented players.  He very often had to carry Liverpool.  He is certainly ahead of the other two in terms of his influence and leadership qualities.   He also has a great knack for scoring in the biggest of games on the biggest stages where pressure is highest.  This is not just limited to cup finals, he is regularly Liverpool's best player in big games, such as top four/rival clashes.  He has been a constant captain for his beloved club and often if not a bit sporadically for his country.  He excels in a more attacking role, is very energetic and fantastic at linking play.  It was impressive the understanding that he shared with Alonso and Torres in years gone by and the period Liverpool was at its strongest.  Gerrard has also made more of an impact for his country than both Scholes and Lampard and shown his form from his club more easily.  He is an excellent tackler, has great shooting ability particularly from distance and his long range passing can be impressive.  His passing though, I don't think is as strong as Scholes.  He is definitely not a player you could associate with keeping possession.  Gerrard isn't about controlling a game and slowing it down, much more about taking it by the scruff of the neck and fighting.  His never say die attitude is impressive and it is just his style.  As has been seen, he isn't capable of playing in a more limited, defensive and holding role.  Age has not suited him well and there has been a significant decline in his quality since he has got older.  Scholes played on for longer and adapted his game suitably, Lampard now 35 is still playing to a high standard. Gerrard's career is full of great moments and would likely produce a more impressive highlight reel, there is more of an individual greatness with him.  Probably because he did have to do so much of it himself.

Frank Lampard's scoring record is nothing but extraordinary.  It is some feat to have scored as many goals as he has from midfield.  Undoubtedly has a powerful shot and an ability to score those important match winning goals too.  He has a lesser influence on how his team plays than the other players mentioned.  He doesn't have an obvious weakness though, technique, passing, leadership qualities and energy are all good.  With the way Chelsea has played over the years he has been cushioned by true defensive midfielders who have allowed him space and freedom to attack.  Certainly Lampard is  more rounded, but have never seen him as an outstanding player.  A great one, particularly during that period 05-08.  Despite being well rounded Lampard is less adaptable and hasn't the ability to play in a variety of roles as Gerrard and Scholes can and did.  He has been however, throughout his career incredibly consistent, something that he definitely holds over the two.

Paul Scholes, cannot tackle for the life of him and throughout his career accumulated a good number of bookings.  He doesn't have the stamina of the other two players nor the impact in the biggest games.  That is not to say that he had none though, he has been the scorer of some vitally important Manchester United goals throughout his career.  The first that springs to mind is his goal vs Barcelona in the 07/08 season that took United to a Champions League final.  His performances have also been key in some of the biggest games.  He is a quieter presence on the pitch, especially in his latter seasons in a deeper role.  He is a conductor and has the passing and vision to control a game from the  middle of the park.  A power to up or lessen the tempo.  Neither Gerrard or Lampard possess that ability.  He was a vital outlet for the counter attacking, wingplay centred football United has played.  It is something underrated that United are missing, his ability to feed the wide men and get them on their way, anticipating their runs gave the United attack a great advantage.  Another argument I have heard is that he has won more, but that doesn't mean he is better- sustained success is not built on individuals.  I do believe that he is the best player of the three though, no player is without their weaknesses but he is just such a fine footballer.  Brilliant technique and no player can pass the ball like he can.  He has the ability to score goals too, just like the other two but was restricted in his older years due to operating in a deeper role.  Despite his height disadvantage he did manage to score a good number of headers.  He came through at United as a striker and played a number of games there.  His highest scoring season he played in tandem with Ruud van Nistelrooy, netting 20 in 2002/03.  Unlike Gerrard and Lampard he most often had to play in a midfield two, which meant him having to both attack and defend.  He is more naturally gifted and the better footballer I think.  He just makes it look so easy, reads the game well and is an intelligent player.  How much in awe opposition players are of him is also a big indicator of his quality.  They are the players who have faced him and their experience counts for a-lot.  It is also important to say that his game and capabilities have always been more widely appreciated on the continent than England.  His ability to adapt has probably been the biggest success of his.  I do hope that there is not too much of a bias in my argument for Scholes.  I made my best effort to tone it down!  Controversially so for many considering the likes of Ronaldo et al, but Scholes is the best player I've seen play for United.

The England factor is worth a mention too.  Carragher's main argument in favour of Gerrard over Scholes, was that the latter was not chosen for England.  It doesn't take a genius to see that mistakes have been made with England in routinely putting together a collection of individuals and not the best team.  The Gerrard and Lampard partnership has been a constant for England and a constant disappointment at that.  Managers, starting with Sven Goran Erickson have prevailed with this, shoe-horning the pair into the side.  It hasn't worked and is one of the reasons why the English national team was so poor to watch.  There are no guarantee's that Scholes would have made such a magic difference but it would have been good if he had got a chance in his favoured position.  His talents are especially suited to the continental game but instead he was shunted wide.  The player himself has come under criticism for turning his back on his national side.  He didn't enjoy the international experience of being away from his family and had an issue with the attitude of the players, there was no collective unity and the players tended to play for themselves.  That may have changed in recent years.  It is also inaccurate to say that no England manager rated him, both McLaren and Capello made big efforts to get him to return to the fold.  Scholes loss and I feel England's loss too.  But England and English fans should acknowledge how lucky they are for their country to have produced such players.  I'd have loved for Scotland to have had a midfielder as good as even just one of these guys.