Gerrard shows true England focus

RUSTENBURG, South Africa - Steven Gerrard shared the content of his dreams, his happiness with the team hotel and his views on his captaincy and leadership, but uttered not a word on the team, tactics and players England face on Saturday when their World Cup campaign begins.

Welcome to life at base camp England where on Thursday the focus of attention was rarely diverted from their favourite subject: themselves.

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While most of the other 31 nations involved in the World Cup finals discuss their opponents in detail, study their strengths and weaknesses and give their views on the frenzy of South African excitement around them as the tournament approaches, the England camp, and media, appears marooned in self-obsession.

From Gerrard, we learned that he likes the hotel, that the food is great and that he has dreamed of lifting the World Cup for England.

But his views on the make-up of the United States team and the prospects for the tournament-opening fixture between hosts South Africa and Mexico remained unknown.

Under inquisition from British television reporters, he was not asked any specific questions about the Americans.


Instead, he fielded repeats of queries about Wayne Rooney's temperament, the need for good discipline and why swearing at referees is not advisable.

When asked about Friday's opener, by a Mexican reporter, he left the room without answering.

Sadly, and unlike most other counties taking part, England seem to have no intention of talking freely to the global media and breaking free of a stage-managed programme of cliché-riddled news conferences structured for a British audience.

Their training and hotel base is at the comfortable, sprawling Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus, an isolated retreat on the high veldt, where an excellent media centre, in terms of facilities, has been erected.

There is high-speed internet access, a layout of good desks and chairs, comfortable sofas and a food-and-drinks service, not to mention a set of televisions always tuned to Sky News and free chocolate bars.

But access to players and staff is limited with each session monitored and managed at close quarters.

It is a tried-and-tested routine but one that left visitors from Venezuela, Norway, Spain and Mexico baffled when they attempted to discover the background of England's transformation in form and results under Capello's regime.

Instead of talking to England players, coaches or managers, the visiting reporters interviewed each other and any members of the England media corps with time to help them out.

On Thursday, the Norwegians were surprised not to see Capello talking ahead of the clash with the United States, the first time they have met at the World Cup since 1950 in Brazil, when the Americans won famously 1-0.

Instead they listened patiently as Gerrard reiterated his faith in the strength of the England squad, his confidence in his midfield axis with Frank Lampard and his belief in manager Capello's management style, including delaying his choice of goalkeeper until the final day.

They were all topics that had been covered before in the preceding days of the tournament with other players, Lampard included. And the answers were just the same.

It was hard not to slide into a state of déjà vu.

When asked how he felt when watching Wednesday's televised South African street celebrations, he responded by talking of the great support in England.

"All the players are aware of what's happening back home, the excitement that's building - and we know everyone is behind us," he said.

It was an innocent mistake but one that betrayed a simple truth: these World Cup finals may be taking place in Africa and watched by a global audience but for England it is all about them.

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