England's future brightened by Hammers

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The Independent Football

FOOTBALLERS NEVER seem to stop moaning about their workload these days but two, at least, are hoping for a 50-week working season.

FOOTBALLERS NEVER seem to stop moaning about their workload these days but two, at least, are hoping for a 50-week working season.

Frank Lampard and Trevor Sinclair's campaign began on 17 July playing for West Ham United against Jokerit in the Intertoto Cup. They would like it to end on 3rd July next year playing for England in the European Championship final.

That is, obviously, a long way off with the first requirement being a Swedish win over the Poles tomorrow. That, however, would diminish the pair's chances of making international debuts against Belgium at Sunderland on Sunday.

Lampard, in particular, seems likely to start if England are looking to the 2002 World Cup rather than next summer's championships. If the aim is the more short-term one of the play-offs Paul Ince is a more probable choice.

Whether they start on Sunday or not both seem sure to make the step up at some stage this season though past experience means neither are taking anything for granted.

Lampard, the Under-21 captain, has seen a string of his team-mates promoted before him but only once been in the squad, for the friendly with Hungary in March when he stayed on the bench while five others made debuts.Sinclair was a squad regular as far back as 1996 but never got the opportunity to claim a place in the Euro 96 squad. His form then dipped along with that of Queen's Park Rangers, his club at the time.

This year, however, both have returned to prominence on the back of West Ham's fine start to the season, a start Lampard believes is, in part, due to the club's Intertoto Cup involvement.

"It's going to be a long season for us," said Lampard after training at Bisham Abbey yesterday, "but last year we weren't playing enough because we got knocked out of the cups early on. As a player, you'd rather be playing midweek games and being successful than not.

"We started so well in the Premier League because of the competitive European games and I think we've also gained experience from them."Lampard has won 14 caps for the Under-21s gradually shaking off the tag of 'Frank Lampard Jnr' to be known in his own right rather than as the son of Lampard Snr, the former West Ham defender who is now the club's assistant manager.

"There was this thing about 'you're only in the side because of your dad' and shaking that off might be part of my improvement. It made me a lot stronger and it's been easier to play my own game since."

Eyal Berkovic's departure has been another factor. "I had more defensive responsibilities with him in the side because he was great on the ball, a great passer, but not so good defensively. Now I've got two hard- working players with me I can push on more and try and get in goalscoring positions."

Sinclair has also benefited from changing roles. Having chosen Blackpool ahead of Manchester United as a youngster - he thought he would get more of a chance - he came to attention at QPR as a striker.

At Upton Park he is more usually a wing-back (though he still hankers a desire to play centre-forward) and he said: "Playing in various positions has given me a better understanding of the game and my game has come on immensely. I'm reading the game better and I'm more mature than when I was last in the squad."

Though he has had spells as a deejay (mainly playing garage music) and a catwalk model (for Boss as well as Top Shop) Sinclair was never a troublesome player, but he did become disillusioned at QPR. Having been rated as a £10m player he found himself struggling to even make their First Division side and a move was in everyone's best interests.

Serious injury - posterior cruciate ligament damage and a cartilage - did not help and he recalled: "I needed to move, it was just who would take me because I had been out for six months and I found it difficult to get my sharpness back.

"Harry [Redknapp] came in for me, and I hope this is some kind of reward for him maybe taking a risk. Harry said he bought me because he had been watching me from when I was 13, when I went to Lilleshall trials with his son, Jamie, and to him it wasn't a risk.

"I do think of what might have happened if Harry hadn't come in but I try not to. I try to look to the positive things and I'm totally happy at West Ham, enjoying my football."

Sinclair, like Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, has recently signed a new contract with the Hammers and he added: "I feel the club has ambition. Look at the players they bring in and the players they keep. I think it has a bright future and I want to be involved in it."

We may know, by Sunday, whether the same can be said of England.