Blog by: Naveen
Frank “the wonder-boy” Lampard – a proud member of what is truly an exclusive club of English gentlemen (more or less), who have had the honour of turning out for their countries a century of times.
The nerves tingle as one attempts to put into words what this man has brought to world football over the course of what can only be described as a remarkable career; Andy Gray’s excited yelps ringing in my ear as I imagine him letting fly in the way only Frank Lampard can. Among the current crop of players plying their trade in the wonderful world of the English Premier League, it is only perhaps his Chelsea captain John Terry, England captain Steven Gerrard, and the age defying Ryan Giggs, who evoke such passionate and deep-lying loyalty from their respective supporters.
In fact, with the exception of the much maligned Terry (and whose fault is that; by the way?), the other three names command almost unparalleled respect and admiration from supporters across the country, and indeed from connoisseurs of the game the world over. I would go so far as to say that amongst this exalted company of names Lampard finds himself in – he remains the most feared by his peers today, simply because of his consistency and continued ability to influence the game where it matters the most; a true box-to-box midfielder in every sense of the word, a master in the modern game.
For all his exploits as a Chelsea player, the story of Frank Lampard’s England career is the story of England’s wasted, and much-vaunted “golden generation”. Being English is apparently the worst thing that can happen to you as an international footballer – just ask David Beckham. In fact, the former Manchester United winger is the poster boy for the love-hate relationship that the English have with their footballing heroes – with the press playing no small part in unifying public opinion against the players, as and when it suits them (but that’s a story for another time).
As it is, international football is a whole other ball game – with roles not quite so clearly defined, and the team itself not quite on the same plane. It is hardest for those who own the limelight for their respective club sides in creative positions – and it is here that we come to the topic most discussed(except for metatarsals, anyway) both in dingy pubs and corporate boardrooms across that country – Gerrard’s and Lampard’s bumbling ways in the center of the park.
A little insight would suggest that considering Gerrard’s adeptness at a more defensive role (one he revels in today at Liverpool), it should have been Lampard who got the license to operate in the center as he is accustomed to at Chelsea. But the Liverpool man’s majestic displays for his club side have somehow always overshadowed the Chelsea man’s own sizable contributions to his team’s cause. And when Stevie G was inexplicably asked to play on the left flank (far more times than he should have – thank you, Fabio Capello), he lost interest quickly and tended to drift into the center. On the few occasions we have seen the two combine – with Lampard further up the field – they’ve been decent enough, but hardly inspiring.
One can never really put a finger on why some partnerships click and others don’t – Yorke and Cole exploded onto the scene for a while at Manchester United, while despite being branded as “too similar” by all manner of football pundits, Rooney and Tevez enjoyed a sizzling chemistry, at least until the mercurial Argentine lost faith in Sir Alex.
Despite the obvious sense of underachievement that remains among the English when they think of what-may-have-been, a closer look suggests that Lampard has, in fact, been one of the most consistent, especially among those charged with England’s attacking responsibilities. Ninth on England’s all-time scoring charts with a creditable return of 29 goals from a 100 caps, he is their second highest-scoring midfielder ever – behind only the incomparable Sir Bobby Charlton. Looking even further back, a young Frank notched up an U-21 goal tally bettered only by Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers (best known for being Arsene Wenger’s most expensive mistake yet – and that’s saying something).
A certain Monsieur Paul Scholes kept him out of the starting team until the world took notice at Euro 2004, where his 3 goals in 4 matches landed him a place in UEFA’s team of the tournament. England’s quadrennial quarterfinal exit notwithstanding, the ensuing period, until the next World Cup in Germany, saw him play his best football – both for club and country. Runner-up to the peerless Ronaldinho at the Ballon d’Or crowning in 2005, he was named England’s Player of the Year (by the fans, mind you) in both ‘04 and ’05. It was during this time that the world truly saw the extent of his abilities and his fantastic work-rate, not to mention a level of consistency that had his manager Jose “The Special One” (The Only One? The Happy One?) Mourinho raving.
His knack of arriving late in the danger zone at precisely the right time, combined with the unerring accuracy with which he strikes the ball, often first-time, has always been a hallmark of Frank’s game. And what a gift to have! To be atop Chelsea’s all-time scoring charts, with a haul of 204 goals (and counting) is a feat in itself. To do so from a midfield position shows just how special this man really is. Add to that his exceptional distribution, eye for the killer pass, and threat from free-kicks (only Didier Drogba, later on in his Chelsea career, ever dared to challenge Frank’s monopoly over the dead ball situation); and we have a player who, despite all his considerable achievements, is still considered not to have achieved all that he could’ve – a feeling that is mutual to all his English teammates.
A shame, really – but the disaster that was the World Cup in ’06, together with the failure to qualify for Euro ’08, shot down any realistic hopes of Lampard helping England lift a major tournament in his prime. He, more than anyone else, will rue the delay in the use of goal-line technology that deprived him of a timely goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup; a screamer from way out that had my heart pounding. A 30 yard free-kick that struck the cross-bar later on only confirmed what that it was not to be England’s day – even though Germany were certainly the better team . Injury ruled him out of Euro 2012, but by then, it was apparent that this generation of players weren’t quite good enough, on the day.
The World Cup qualifiers so far have seen England play surprisingly well – what with the greatly diminished expectations, the presence of more favoured teams, and an exciting young generation of players that knows no fear. Lampard has been central to the theme, of course. With Mourinho’s second coming at the Bridge afoot, it may just be the springboard that lifts Frank and Co. to unparalleled heights next summer in Brazil. Dare we dream it?