Time for captain Gerrard to jump ship
England's final days in Brazil will have an undoubted purgatorial feel. Cut in any direction, being knocked out of a tournament by Costa Rica before even getting to play them ranks as utter humiliation. The brief flickerings of promise against Italy in Manaus are now discredited, not least because of Italy's hopelessness against the Ticos on Friday.
Roy Hodgson tried to give the people what they wanted by playing adventurous lineups, when what the nation actually expected was a place in the last 16. Widespread satisfaction with a losing opening match was poppycock in the face of a performance that grew ever more clueless as the Amazonian night drew on. Defeat to Uruguay saw England extend the follies of Manaus over 90 minutes at the Arena Corinthians.
Hodgson's leadership cannot last much longer, even in the light of his desire to stay and the public backing given to him by the English FA and a number of his players. England's camp at Urca in Rio was largely a happy one until the return journey from Sao Paulo, but team spirit withers in the light of abject failure.
If Hodgson wants to salvage any kind of legacy from Brazil, then the final match in Belo Horizonte must become the first day of a new England. There can be no place for the over-30s, and those unlikely to be around for Euro 2016. That means a bathetic end to the career of centurion Frank Lampard as an unused member of the squad.
It also demands that Steven Gerrard -- who appears certain to now concentrate on his club football with Liverpool -- should play no further part. The captain has suffered the most harrowing tournament of all of England's 23. Having exerted next to no influence against the Italians, his two mistakes gifted Luis Suarez the goals that killed England's campaign.
Behind the scenes, Gerrard has been key to the collegiate atmosphere that Hodgson and his staff thought could bring success. In practice, a lack of creative tension led to England's problems. The midfield pairing of Gerrard and Jordan Henderson was laborious, predictable and feckless when England needed to chase matches. Having four forward fliers is little use if they do not receive decent possession. The midfield pair was also a key reason chasing matches was required in the first place.
Neither benefitted from playing as a pair; both are used to the trio that Brendan Rodgers employs at Liverpool. Gerrard exerts a clear influence over Hodgson, yet seems to have gone along with a strategy that mortally wounded the team before it had even started. And exposed himself brutally. A defence as short on experience as a unit and low in quality as England's foursome needed far better protection than Gerrard -- by nobody's estimation a natural anchorman -- could provide. In an attacking sense, his influence was minimal. The passing lacked crispness and betrayed nerves that someone of his experience should have been well beyond.
Gerrard's most obvious role in Brazil appears to have been delivering a set of pep talks to the squad. First came the speech to younger players ahead of Uruguay in which Gerrard revealed the pain of exiting a World Cup. "It was important for them to realise what is at stake and how important this game is," Gerrard said, which bordered on the unnecessary. Then came a rather showy word in the ear of Wayne Rooney just as the TV cameras set themselves for kickoff in Sao Paulo.
On Sunday evening, Gerrard delivered a postmortem speech to the squad at their Rio hotel. Added to the post-Manchester City "this does not f---ing slip" rallying cry in Liverpool colours, and how their title charge faltered, a career in motivational speaking may not be the next calling for Gerrard.
The Costa Rica game must be used a vehicle to give midfielders like Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley the experience of full participation in a World Cup match. They are the future, and not Gerrard. England's FA being the financially aware beast it is, September's friendly with Norway at Wembley can be used as a valedictory occasion to send off Gerrard, and perhaps Lampard.
They must go the way of all footballers, into a retirement that ought to bring about many regrets about their international careers. It seems almost facile, perhaps overly obvious, to suggest that the Gerrard who has so inspired Liverpool is not the same player who has been central within a litany of failures with his national team; the number of great Gerrard performances in an England shirt is a markedly lower proportion.
His and Lampard's passing ends the era of a set of centurions. Gerrard and his erstwhile midfield colleague's level of international achievement has ended up falling well below that of contemporaries David Beckham and Ashley Cole; Beckham was a better captain and far more productive for his country, while Cole had significant claims to be the world's best in his position.
Gerrard reaches the end of an England career that has not delivered nearly so much. The best thing he can do for the benefit of England is to step aside -- now -- before the Costa Rica game. Such a gesture would represent the type of self-sacrifice that the finest leaders make.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.