Captaincy a fitting tribute to England’s ultimate professional Lampard

The Rio Report

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Frank Lampard will captain England when he is presented with his 100th international cap in Friday night’s friendly with Chile at Wembley.

Lampard’s father, Frank Senior, was a less gifted player and will present his son with a golden cloth hat three games after he made that landmark appearance, against Ukraine in England’s successful World Cup qualification campaign.

For all his success the Chelsea midfielder, who turns 36 during the World Cup this summer, remains a divisive figure among fans and pundits.

His detractors claim he is one-dimensional, functional and only shines at Chelsea because he is surrounded by great players; that he merely fulfils a role for the Blues, a role which is a luxury for an England team that struggles to exert itself in midfield.

His supporters claim he has been one of the greatest players in European football over the past decade, and that an international record of a goal in every three or so games stands up to a similar tally at club level; that Lampard has failed to match his Chelsea trophy haul with England is down to the lack of competence among his team-mates.

The reality is somewhere between the two – while a great player, and one who often bails England out of sticky situations, Lampard’s attributes and position on the pitch overlap with those of Steven Gerrard, who is probably a better individual footballer but perhaps a weaker team player. A square peg in a round hole, his case not helped by playing for a Chelsea popular only among their fans, with Liverpool’s more numerous supporters loudly backing their man Gerrard.

But Lampard’s quality and professionalism cannot be doubted – anyone who does so is blinded by the lights of club partisanship, often accompanied by a perception that a former public schoolboy has no place in the working man’s game. He is England’s highest-scoring midfielder of all time and the cold numbers do not lie.

Lampard was once described by Jose Mourinho as the fittest player at Chelsea. He has also been singled out for possessing an unusually high IQ for a footballer, and has been a public defender for the right of people in the public eye to have a private life.

A friend once had the misfortune to encounter the mid-Noughties vintage of Chelsea Football Club in a West London bar. Celebrating a victory in predictably raucous fashion, some players were offending the more genteel patrons with their rowdy, profane behaviour. That was until one of their team-mates stepped to one side, apologised to onlookers, and encouraged his colleagues to move quietly to a table. Needless to say, it was Lampard.

‘Lamps’ was not always a shining beacon of gentlemanly behaviour and consummate professionalism. In his early days at Chelsea, perhaps swayed by the laddish culture of the era, the former West Ham trainee was involved in a couple of rather unpleasant alcohol-related incidents. Nothing violent, it must be said, just cringeworthy and distasteful.

Crucially, he took the criticism on board, changed his behaviour and grew as a man and a player. An example that the likes of Jack Wilshere and Wilfried Zaha, to mention just two England hopefuls with dubious social habits, would do well to emulate.

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At this stage of his career, and following the emergence of Michael Carrick as a more suitable foil to Gerrard, Lampard is no longer top of the list for the starting XI. Lampard himself has admitted that he worries about making the cut for Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

Provided he stays fit, and at least on the fringes of the Chelsea team, he should not be too concerned. His experience, calm and leadership will hold England in good stead, whether he has an impact on the pitch or is limited to the bench. England are not overly-endowed in central midfield, and he has a role to play even if in reserve. It is worth remembering that, when Germany tore England apart at the 2010 World Cup, Lampard was probably the only player to emerge with any credit, the only man able to mix it with Joachim Loew’s wunderkinds.

The decision to hand Lampard the captaincy in Gerrard’s absence is not merely symbolic. He sets a tone of ultra-professionalism and calm under pressure that his international team-mates would do well to emulate. The golden cap represents a golden career, and should serve as an example to Wilshere and co. that talent alone will not suffice.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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