FOOTBALL: Lampard better than Rooney, say England fans

FRANK LAMPARD was tonight set to complete the first step in a possible individual awards treble after being handed the England player of the year award for 2004.

Lampard, who won 40 per cent of the 20,000 votes cast by England fans to beat Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, was due to get the award before last night's friendly against the Netherlands.

The Chelsea midfielder is also being tipped as one of the front-runners to claim the overall player of the season awards from the Football Writers' Association and the Professional Footballers' Association.

The Chelsea players John Terry, Arjen Robben and Petr Cech could also contest the awards along with Thierry Henry, Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Rooney, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andy Johnson.

Sven-Goran Eriksson said: "If I was a player voting for the best in the year, then Frank Lampard would certainly be very high on my list. He is a very important player in the England team and is always improving. You can't ask much more from a midfielder and I congratulate him on winning this award."

Lampard said: "It was a great year. It's not that long ago that I was in and out of the team and more of a squad member than a team member. I've pushed on a lot in the past year. I'm proud to have won."

Lampard scored three goals during Euro 2004 as part of a midfield partnership with Gerrard. "It was the highest point in my career. The most enjoyable month in my career, probably of my life," he said. "Just to be involved, to feel a real big part of the plans - the games were massive occasions. As a kid you always look up and see these tournaments going on. When you're in it, it's kind of weird, but brilliant.

"I just remember the feeling of excitement as I ran off celebrating that goal against France - it was like nothing I've ever felt before. The Portugal goal was kind of tainted because that was the night we were knocked out, but it was still very exhilarating at that moment.

"The adrenalin pumps so much that you don't really know what you think for a few minutes."

While Lampard also scored in the opening group game against France, he was still left in awe of the France captain, Zinedine Zidane, who struck twice in injury time to secure a dramatic victory.

"Playing against him, you realise the man is a real genius," Lampard said. "He wasn't at his best in the game, but it's horrible to play against a player you can't tackle because the moment you do, he moves the ball away. He's the best I've ever played against."

A leading expert in football finance believes the bank-busting route to success being taken by Lampard's club could have grave implications for the Premiership.

Matthew Glendinning, editor of Football Business International, believes Chelsea's success, built in an artificial financial environment in which normal business rules do not apply, could lead to a growing feeling of alienation within the game.

Glendinning said: "It seemed like a good thing that Chelsea would become a genuine challenge for Manchester United and Arsenal. But now it seems they have overtaken them so quickly that one fears for the seasons to come.

"Historically, nobody suggested Liverpool's dominance was boring or based on some unfair accumulation of wealth.

"But I think people are more sceptical now and we are beginning to see a sense of slight alienation by fans from the Chelsea phenomenon."

The Premier League has bullishly defended its product this season in the face of growing criticism that it is uncompetitive.

But Glendinning fears the gap between the top clubs and the rest is only likely to grow to the point where smaller sides have little chance of success.

"We're past the era of a maverick club like Nottingham Forest coming up to challenge the big boys," added Glendinning.

"One could not blame some fans for questioning why they are continuing to pay to watch a team whose only remote chance of success could come by squeezing into the Uefa Cup or an FA Cup run.

"The League is undoubtedly becoming more stretched out and with Chelsea now and for the foreseeable future beating all-comers, it does beg the question of why one is still drawn to watch some of the so-called competitive football."

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