Capello must think again after digging a hole for Gerrard

From swashbuckling midfielder to creator supreme, Steven Gerrard's Reinvention Tour reached the Stade de France last night.

The city of culture one week, the fashion capital of Europe the next and then on to Paris, perhaps the final destination of this mini-adventure.

Rafael Benitez started it by promoting him to play off Fernando Torres against Inter Milan in the Champions League, and then Fabio Capello caught on to it.

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Enlarge   Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard tries to find a breakthrough in the Stade de France

The 'role in the hole' is a niche market. Just ask Diego Maradona, Pele, Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane and magical Magyar Ferenc Puskas ¿ how is that for company?

The days when the Liverpool midfielder used to report for England duty dressed in an Action Man outfit are long gone, but his role as England's No 10 will require refinement. More Miami Vice than the Six Million Dollar Man.

He has a get-out clause for this inglorious failure. He complained bitterly in his autobiography after he was handed the role in a friendly against Hungary at Old Trafford just before the 2006 World Cup. Gerrard opened the scoring that night, but the lone striker suffered.

That man was Michael Owen, but his role in the team was relegated to that of substitute.

Gerrard has the attacking instincts, the bursts of pace and the anticipation that can make a difference. Witness the way he made it work when Benitez promoted him against Inter Milan at Anfield.

Gerrard scored, Liverpool secured a vital victory and the midfielder has been supporting Fernando Torres ever since.

Liverpool missed his presence in the centre of the pitch against Manchester United last Sunday, but Javier Mascherano's dismissal played its part in his anonymity.

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Enlarge   Wayne Rooney and Claude Makelele

Wayne Rooney battles with France and Chelsea midifelder Claude Makelele

Capello has seen something in it, though. He was the link man in the Stade de France, supporting Rooney with rapier-like runs from midfield and hounding France with that infectious enthusiasm.

Rooney miraculously trapped his pass sent with the speed of the Eurostar in the opening minutes, but England needed more than that. Much more.

Put Gerrard in a Liverpool shirt and he will demand the ball, drive his team forward and provide the penetration that so often pays off.

He had the only two England chances of the first half; a wild shot that flew over keeper Gregory Coupet's bar and then a poor header from Wes Brown's ball to the far post missed the target. That cross, incidentally, was the only thing Brown got right all evening.

The England manager wants this system to work, especially against European football's A-list opposition.

It did not take Capello and assistant Franco Baldini long to work out that they are working with limited resources.

John Terry, Gerrard and Rooney were earmarked by the new regime for key roles long before they arrived to begin the renaissance.

It began, in part, against Switzerland last month when goals from Jermaine Jenas and Shaun Wright-Phillips earned England a winning start.

The Italians want to make England difficult to beat: the blockade begins with Owen Hargreaves and Gareth Barry in the holding role and Gerrard offering the outlet between midfield and attack.

Hargreaves lost his regular starting place in the Manchester United side when he was substituted at half time for a sub-standard performance at Tottenham last month. Capello clearly has other plans.

He has watched the video of the midfielder's world-class display against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and has spotted a talent that can work in a system that is underpinned by defensive responsibility.

At his very best, Hargreaves is the modern-day equivalent of Edgar Davids: high-energy and highly impressive. So, too, is Barry.

Brimming with confidence after a successful season with Aston Villa, he has nudged Frank Lampard into the sidings. Capello does not fancy Lampard.

Illness or no illness, the Chelsea midfielder was never going to be in the starting line-up, but at least he threatens in front of goal. England missed that last night.

When Franck Ribery scored from the penalty spot, England suddenly lacked ideas. Beckham struggled on the right, Joe Cole was anonymous and heads began to drop.

They lacked ideas, they lacked inspiration and they lacked the killer instinct.

Gerrard is better with the ball at his feet than his back to goal. That is the domain of ball players, the will'o the wisp characters who drift in and out of games. That is not Gerrard.

He prefers to roll up his sleeves and dig in. What he would have given to get stuck into Claude Makelele or Lyon's Jeremy Toulalan in the centre. Instead he was stuck in no man's land.

Capello needed a creative spark: a goal from Gerrard, a moment of ingenuity from Joe Cole or a touch of class from Rooney.

Instead, Gerrard's role in the hole was aborted after 45 minutes. By the time they play the U.S.A. at Wembley in May, it is most likely to be down the drain.

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