He's had his knockers over the years, often unfairly, but as his body wilts and his poor passing is exposed, Capello has done the right thing by dropping Chelsea's Frank Lampard...
In light of his demise at international level, it’s pertinent to recall a quote that Frank Lampard made almost two years ago about Adam Crozier coining that phrase for that talented yet doomed crop of English talent. ‘The whole “golden generation” thing is quite frustrating for us as players. It keeps getting mentioned, which is unfortunate really,’ he said.
'It is good to have pressure on you as individuals and on the team as a whole. But calling us a golden generation, it was almost as if people were waiting for us to fail.’ And what of Crozier? ‘Look what happened to him,’ was the smug reply in reference to the former FA chief executive overseeing a fraught and strike-riddled Royal Mail.
Although the generation wasn’t even of the bronze variety, Lampard’s gripe with the hierarchy’s expression of national optimism underlines why his career as an England player will be tainted by dissatisfaction. Aside from a potent Euro 2004 campaign where he netted three times, his two World Cup finals performances prompted jokes about him lacing up Toblerone-shaped boots and not even being the best in his family. He was undeniably luckless in the 4-1 defeat to Germany last year, where he unofficially ‘scored’ and also smashed Manuel Neuer’s crossbar, but his four performances were the Mr Hyde to his Chelsea Jekyll.
Despite Lampard’s amiability in interviews, he has always been defensive of a brittle ego which has exposed its weakness again this week. In April 2007 he loquaciously shielded himself against reproach from Joey Barton after the recent England debutant lambasted his displays for the national team – as well as his ill-timed autobiography. Whereas interim captain Steven Gerrard saw the funny side by leaving a copy of his book outside Barton’s hotel room (‘You get a lot of time to yourself and I thought he might like to read it.’), Lampard didn’t. Reportedly, he even moved tables one morning in order to avoid Barton, who piped up ‘It's alright, I'm not going to steal your breakfast you fat prick.’
His potency and stamina has papered over his limited passing range, and his body can no longer cater for the marauding midfielder who once affected games with regularity
His sensitivity was even aired live on radio when he phoned host James O'Brien to defend himself after being accused of letting down his children following the separation from his fiancée, while his outspoken defences have extended towards teammates such as John Terry and Wayne Rooney.
Yet there has been an unfathomable and unwarranted amount of sympathy reserved for Lampard after Fabio Capello dropped him for England’s stroll in Sofia. It was the first time he had not been selected since the 3-0 debacle against Andorra in Barcelona back in March 2007, and the gravity of dropping a 33-year-old box-to-box midfielder from an incompatible system bordered on outrage. A Sunday broadsheet carried quotes from a friend of Lampard stating that he was ‘annoyed’ at being downgraded to the substitute’s bench, when ‘unsurprised’ would have been more befitting.
The irony is that the pity comes courtesy from certain sections who have bracketed him with England’s failed footballers. Capello’s ruthlessness is long overdue after he stubbornly persisted with the Lampard-Gerrard axis, the quintessential folie á deux, and although the Liverpool captain should arguably be subjected to the treatment Lampard has incurred, he has always been the superior and more adaptable footballer who is crucially capable of thriving in a 4-2-3-1.
Lampard has excelled during an accomplished career, pulling Chelsea out of the mire more times than Ant and Dec have been on ITV and possessing an insatiable knack for goals which put him in striker territory. But his potency and stamina has papered over his limited passing range, and his body can no longer cater for the marauding midfielder who once affected games with regularity under six Blues managers.
What is harsh on Lampard is that he is the sole victim left hung out to dry from the gormless generation. David Beckham was granted sycophantic praise despite capitalising on his star-struck coach’s leniency and yielding umpteen gimme caps, Gerrard had a bottling 2006 World Cup despite performing miracles for Liverpool, Joe Cole will remain an unfulfilled talent and Michael Owen got greedy. Rooney too may have time on his side, but like Lampard was profligate at major finals following an electrifying Euro 2004.
Perhaps Lampard was merely a victim of a productive start to his England career. Whereas Sven-Göran Eriksson should have built his team around one of the most gifted English footballers in Paul Scholes, he neglected him and relied upon the galvanising impact of Lampard and Gerrard, piling unfair pressure on the pair of them. But the Three Lions now need fresh blood (Gareth Barry is surely a stop-gap until Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard are available) and frankly there’s no debate to be had, since Lampard’s demotion is belated.
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