No England Player Deserves the 100-Cap Landmark More Than Frank Lampard
The rivalry of club football is at such a high level that supporters of the national team will dislike a player purely because they play for a rival. But there seems to be an exception with Frank Lampard.
Fourteen years ago, Kevin Keegan gave the budding West Ham youngster his debut in the senior team in the 2-1 friendly win over Belgium. And now, 99 caps and 29 goals later, the time has come to join the exclusive "centurion" club.
Sam Lee of Goal.com reported that the Liverpool veteran, who became a centurion himself earlier this year, hailed Lampard as "a top player," although this is common knowledge to the average fan of European football.
However, what Gerrard said next symbolised how not only supporters, but his fellow professionals also viewed the 35-year-old as an example to follow: "Nobody deserves this more than Frank. He's been tremendous for club and country."
In all honesty, it's difficult to disagree with that statement, regardless of whether you are a Manchester United, Liverpool or West Ham fan. Nobody can deny that Lampard is a class act to follow and has been one of the greatest players to pull on the Three Lions shirt.
Never in a midfielder's wildest dreams would they believe they could become their club's all-time leading goalscorer, especially in and among world-class strikers such as Gianfranco Zola and Didier Drogba. But at Chelsea, Frank Lampard currently stands on 205 goals in 613 games for the Blues; a truly remarkable record.
Even his haul of 29 goals for England is an outstanding record, in comparison to main striker Wayne Rooney (84 caps, 36 goals) or the now-retired Michael Owen (89 caps, 40 goals). To put it into context, players like Lampard arise once in a generation, and to observe his performances must be viewed as nothing but a privilege.
The sheer level of professionalism with which he approaches his work is astounding, and has taken aback some of Lampard's previous, and current, employers. Jose Mourinho, now back at Chelsea, once claimed that Lampard was the "best professional he had ever worked with," according to Surely, there is no higher compliment than that from one of the most successful managers in the game.
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist it's easy to see why, with the former West Ham man always keen to improve his game by being the first on the training pitch and the last one off.
It's that extra slice of desire, that hunger, which has enabled Lampard to become something of a prized asset for English football, with his passion for the game never thrown into doubt.
The earlier periods of his career saw Lampard, who signed for Chelsea from West Ham for £11 million in 2001, operate in a box-to-box midfielder role, allowing him to get involved in the midfield battles while also galloping forward to support the attack.
But he is under no illusions, and identifies the two men who have been a major influence on his career. The first is his father ,Frank Lampard Snr, a former footballer: "He always made me very aware of my weaknesses as a youngster – not in a bad way.
He’d praise the good things but he was on about my pace, trying to get in the box and score goals and having the energy to do that. He let me know that it was extra runs, extra hours practising shooting, and finishing. That became ingrained in me," as reported by Henry Winter of The Telegraph.
Then there was Jose Mourinho, who Lampard says enabled him to become a better player altogether: "He galvanises people. His own self-confidence reflects back on his teams. He did that to me personally.
What he does is he gets the best out of players and gets this togetherness that I'd never known until he came to the club and I haven't seen it again since then."
Lampard's timing of runs into the opposition penalty area are what he is renowned for doing best. Even despite now being deployed in a deeper role, Lampard continues to influence the play, pulling the strings from a deep-lying playmaker role.
Of course, this inevitably means that due to a drop in fitness levels and pace—albeit, still impressive for his age—his attacking runs are limited, but his leadership on the pitch is not.
Perhaps it's also necessary to highlight his impressive level of intelligence off the pitch as well as on it. It gives some insight as to why he is so highly respected among the England setup.
While the majority of footballers admit to lacking intelligence off the pitch, this is simply not the case with Lampard. Whether it's an post-match interview or simply a chat with the Essex native, it becomes apparent how the generalisation about footballers lacking intelligence is perhaps unfair.
He doesn't use his age or incredible list of honours as an excuse to be in the national team. Instead, revealing the interview with Henry Winter, he wants to help the younger players grow, and suggests a similar instance with Gareth Southgate has inspired him to carry out a similar act.
The willingness of a player to improve, or prove himself, at 35 years of age is a rarity in football. Even among the egos in the dressing room, the money and the so-called "player power," Lampard will never admit he has nothing to prove, despite his long list of personal achievements.
It's this kind of modesty and respect that makes players like Lampard a dying breed in modern football and gives some insight as to why both Chelsea and England are desperate to hang on to him.
And as Lampard approaches what is likely to be his last qualifying campaign for a major tournament, he maintains that the 47 years without a title is not the players' fault. Instead, he "wants to be remembered as a player who gave everything and was proud to play for his country."
The pride that fills the evergreen midfielder is evident, adding: "I'm proud to get anything near 100 caps because when I began playing, I didn't think I would get more than 20."
And as he prepares to help England qualify for their fifth consecutive World Cup finals with a win against Ukraine, Lampard played down the importance of his 100th cap, claiming victory is the only important matter, and must be credited for staying focused on the team, not himself, at such a pivotal time for England.
By all means, with some fantastic young players coming through such as Jack Wilshere, England should embrace the change of personnel in a bid to change their fortunes on the pitch, and perhaps they may be able to challenge for the World Cup next year.
Roy Hodgson will know having a player with Lampard's experience can only aid his team's quest, because as is the case with the Chelsea man, new is not always better.
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