- International football
Charlton welcomes Gerrard into centurions' club
Sir Bobby Charlton has welcomed Steven Gerrard into England's 100 club as the midfielder prepares to become the sixth player to reach a century of international caps for the country.
Charlton, a World Cup winner and England's all-time top goalscorer, believes Gerrard will be a fully deserving member of the exclusive group when he captains the England team against Sweden in Stockholm on Wednesday night.
In a new book, 'England Centurions', Charlton said: "Steven Gerrard is another like David Beckham whom I would have said, right from the word go, is a natural to make it to the very top.
"I saw him play for Liverpool's youth team when they beat Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup and you could see then that he was another like Beckham - destined for the top."
Charlton spoke of his pride at becoming one of the few England players to reach the golden 100-cap milestone in the FA's 150-year history.
With Gerrard set to reach 100 caps, Ashley Cole on 99 and Frank Lampard within touching distance of his century, Charlton has said he believes the high quality of modern pitches is helping players to prolong their careers.
"Now we have a new batch of players about to hit 100 caps," he said. "Only five for so many years and now three or four about to make it. The reason? Perhaps it's because of the pitches.
"They are different to my day, better class by some distance. You leave the pitch these days very much as you found it, in a perfect condition."
England manager Roy Hodgson said he will feel an enormous sense of pride at handing Gerrard his 100th cap as the Liverpool skipper joins Peter Shilton, Bobby Moore, Billy Wright, Charlton and Beckham.
"Anybody who gets 100 caps for his country has got to be one hell of a player," said Hodgson. "I'm delighted I am going to be the manager of the team when he gets that 100th cap because I regard that as an honour. It's nice if you happen to be the man on the bench that day."
With John Terry having been stripped of the armband before Euro 2012, Hodgson confirmed Gerrard as his captain upon his appointment, and the former Liverpool boss feels the midfielder's approach to the game makes him a fine leader.
"His ability gives him enormous respect in the group, which is important," Hodgson said. "What gives him a real heads-up over a lot of people is his maturity, his total dedication to football and the fact that he's prepared to give his time to other players, to champion their cause and do everything you expect a captain to do. You don't need to be demonstrative.
"In the past there are certain captains who stand out through being demonstrative but there have been lots of very good captains through the years who are not demonstrative people.
"I'm not interested in Steven being demonstrative. I want him to do the job - on the field by leading the team and making certain that when we play we're trying to do the things we work on, and off the field to be there for the players and be that link with the rest of the group."
Apart from the friendly against Italy in Berne at the start of the season and the World Cup qualifier against San Marino last month, the latter of which he missed through suspension, Gerrard has featured in every England game in 2012.
"His recent form for England will have put any lingering doubts to bed," Hodgson said. "Like everything else, the higher you get lifted up by people the more chance there is you're going to fall. That is why you'll notice when young players come into teams, they're invariably received by everybody as 'a fantastic player we've unearthed, a real superstar of the future'.
"But once they've played 20 or 30 games and people have accepted them as a star, the criticism begins and people start to look at it again.
"During these 100 caps there will have been times when he has woken to the headline 'Mr Fantastic' and others where it says 'You let us down'. That is the nature of the business."
Gerrard's Liverpool team-mate Raheem Sterling will be at the other end of the spectrum against Sweden, becoming England's fifth-youngest player as he makes his debut on his club captain's big day.