On Tuesday evening England face Ukraine in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Kiev, in what will be a historic night for Frank Lampard.
The 35-year-old will win his 100th cap for the Three Lions, which is a magnificent achievement. The Chelsea midfielder has had plenty of detractors over the years, but that should not stop him earning the plaudits he deserves for such a milestone.
Lampard made his debut way back in 1999, in a friendly win against Belgium at the Stadium of Light, and he has been a firm mixture in the side for the last decade. He has played at Euro 2004, the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and Euro 2012, scoring an impressive 29 goals in his 99 caps to date. He has scored crucial strikers against the likes of France and Portugal, as well as the only goal in recent wins against Spain and Brazil. He has been a great role model for younger players and has always impressed when media duties have come his way, speaking with an honesty and intelligence not always associated with footballers.
There have been negatives, however. Like the rest of England’s so-called generation, including Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, the likeable midfielder has never reached the heights of his club form at international level. There have been many forgettable, indifferent displays, particularly in Germany in 2006 when much was expected of him, and he has even been booed by his own supporters on some occasions.
The booing has been mostly down to tribalism between English football fans, who will often, bafflingly, only support their own club players when watching England. That’s not to say all supporters are like this, but there are many fans of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example, who will not be disappointed if a rival English player makes a mistake or gets injured during an international match. Lampard is intelligent enough to realise he has been disappointing for England at times, but that does not mean he should’ve been treated the way he has by some.
In many ways Lampard’s England’s career will be defined by his relationship with Gerrard in the middle of the park, as well as the criminal decision which robbed him of a memorable goal against Germany in South Africa three years ago. There is no doubting that both men have been two of the finest midfielders of their generation, but they have simply never clicked together in an England shirt. So often it hasn’t been their fault, in fairness, with the rigid 4-4-2 formation not suiting either player. It has meant Gerrard has had to play an anchoring role, hindering his effectiveness in the process, while Lampard has often struggled with his defensive duties against three-men midfields. If someone like Owen Hargreaves or Michael Carrick had been used alongside Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-3-3 formation there is no doubt that both would’ve been more effective over the years.
Because Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea despised each other during both Lampard and Gerrard’s peaks in the mid to late 00s, many felt that the two stars didn’t get along, but really this was just the media trying to add more edge to the rivalry between the two clubs.
Gerrard has had his own say on Lampard’s 100th cap, and his words made it clear that the two actually have a great relationship and respect for one another both on and off the pitch.
“Frank deserves all the accolades that he gets,” said Gerrard.
“For me, it is always nice when we are in the same team. A lot of people talk about me and Frank being in the same team. We enjoy playing together.
“Frank has been tremendous for club and country. No one deserves this 100 caps more than him. Hopefully, I will be on the pitch when he gets that 100th cap because I have been with him all the way through.
“He is a good friend.
“Roy Hodgson said last year when there was talk of him going to LA Galaxy that he wouldn’t play for England if he went there. He is too good for Galaxy. He made the right choice, of course he did. You saw his form at the back end of last season.
“I would have supported his decision if he had gone, but, for me, he still had so much to offer the Premier League and England.
“Frank is a great player and has been for club and country for a very long time.”
The England captain’s words are very genuine, and his feelings towards Lampard should be echoed by every England fan ahead of his wonderful achievement on Tuesday, regardless of what you think of him as a player.
Only seven other England players have represented their country 100 times or more, which is an indication of the consistency, quality and hard work Lampard has shown throughout his illustrious career. The quality may not always have been there, but he has never shirked responsibility, shown a poor attitude or given up on representing England like some have. He should be commended for this.
Frank Lampard may divide opinion, but he has been an excellent servant to England in his 14 years in the international setup. Some will say he is undeserving of 100 caps, others will be bitter because they hate Chelsea, but the 35-year-old should be lauded on a special night for him on Tuesday.
Don’t be surprised to see him score a crucial winner, edging England closer to 2014 World Cup qualification in the process. Next summer will be his final act as an England player, and some may only appreciate him when he’s gone, sadly.
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