Captain Lampard faces uncertain future
It will be Frank Lampard's 90th cap for England today and the first time that he has captained the team at Wembley – the kind of landmark in a footballer's career that usually marks the pinnacle.
Yet for Lampard this has been a season in which he has had to accept that, at 33, the years are finally catching up with the midfielder who once seemed to exist beyond the usual parameters of endurance. He was left on the bench against Bulgaria in September, for the first time in a competitive game for which he has been fit since 2007. At Chelsea this season, Andre Villas-Boas has challenged the presumption that a fit Lampard always starts.
Taking the armband today does not change the fact that Lampard is contemplating a shift to the edges of this England team but it is nicely timed as a reward for all those years of service. He said yesterday that he had not made up his mind to retire from international football after next summer's European Championships but recognised that the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 were "a long way away for me".
He accepted that there would be a reaction to him being left out of both Chelsea and England teams. "It's normal that people pick up on it," he said. "It was about having belief in myself. I'd had a difficult [last] season with injury, and I'd never had a big injury before. I suffered with that, even when I came back to fitness. I needed to be at my best this year.
"I suppose, at one point, when it was a difficult time for me on the bench at Chelsea, on the bench for England for a couple of games, and a lot was being made of it. I didn't look ahead then. I wanted to get back into the team and playing well. Thankfully I've been able to do that."
"I just think that David Beckham did it really well when he was on the bench for the last year or two of his career with England, on and off. Maybe everything's easy when you're one of the first picks in the team and everything's going great. You have to accept the other side and believe in yourself that you can still contribute... from the bench or starting.
"If you don't show that attitude, you won't get the best out of yourself. People won't look at you in the right way. It's much better if you keep your head down and keep going."
With Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere both injured, Lampard's experience alongside Phil Jones and Scott Parker – 10 caps between them – is invaluable. But when it comes to the Euro 2012 squad, the Chelsea midfielder could find himself behind Gerrard, Wilshere, Parker and potentially Gareth Barry. Lampard said he could only see himself retiring from international football if he thought it was critical to maintaining his club career.
"When you're younger you kind of think you'll maybe retire at a certain age. But, as I've got older, I've started to realise you're a long time retired. I realise I'll be sitting there on my arse wishing I'd pushed that little bit harder and got another 50 caps."
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