Frank Lampard: Comparing England with Team GB's Olympians is unfair
Captain says team-mates should not take all the blame for game's beleaguered position
It is the international friendly no club wanted to be played and football is the sport that is getting it in the neck in some quarters for failing to live up to the spirit of Team GB, the nation's new sporting sweethearts. Of all the England teams, over all the years, and Frank Lampard had to walk into this one as captain.
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Lampard, 34, is one of the few senior players who has been cleared to play in this pre-season friendly three days before the start of the Premier League season, due in no small measure to him having missed Euro 2012 with injury. Tonight at the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne he will captain a depleted England team against Italy knowing that at best there will be a great deal of indifference back home.
The question of Team GB versus England's multi-millionaire Premier League footballers, and their relative merits as sporting role-models, is the hot debate at the moment, however simplistically it has been approached on occasions. Lampard was at the Olympic Stadium to see Usain Bolt win the 200 metres last Thursday, a guest of Lord Coe, and he recognises that footballers are currently on a hiding to nothing.
But he was not about to accept that English footballers, including those who enjoy the rewards at the very top, should take all the blame for their beleaguered position and he had a point.
Lampard said: "It's natural to compare. As I said, we all have failings. All the competitors, the Olympians, particularly Team GB, performed very well and in a very sportsmanlike way. Football and the Olympics are different things. The atmosphere at football is different completely. Sometimes things are shouted from the outside, the atmosphere is more hostile. It all ends up on and off the pitch.
"I think we can probably learn generally from the Olympics. I think we all love football for what it is. If you took that away... I enjoyed going to the Olympics and feeling that atmosphere, and I think it works well. That's what the Olympics is all about. In football, we're all born with our allegiances. It becomes almost a religion for the people who watch it, so we probably take ups and downs in different ways: the ups are great, the downs are different. That's the beauty of the game, to a point."
Roy Hodgson would later say that he had spoken to his players about the importance of representing their country in the right fashion, with Team GB in mind. But this is not a team running in fear from public opinion, nor should it be. They have been through enough lows in their relationship with the English sporting public to know that good results can change the mood.
Besides, there is a game to play tonight, whether people like it or not. Hodgson is restricted to six substitutions which means that should he start with Norwich City's John Ruddy it is unlikely that Jack Butland will make his debut as England's youngest ever goalkeeper given that the England manager wishes to conserve his changes for his outfield players.
Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, has an equally weakened squad with only Daniele De Rossi, Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate from the starting XI from the Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev in June in contention to start the match. Nevertheless, he said yesterday that he had "good memories" of playing England and will be reluctant to allow anything to diminish them.
Hodgson defended the inclusion of Michael Carrick who could win his first cap for more than two years, having been recalled to the squad after effectively retiring from international football under Fabio Capello. Carrick will, in all likelihood, start alongside Lampard in central midfield but there should also be a chance at some point for Tom Cleverley.
On Carrick, Hodgson denied that it was a case of "going back" to a player who had not wanted to play for England in the past. "He had reasons, perhaps personal reasons. I don't know. At the moment, that's not 'going back'. You people [press] have lived through a lot of England teams and have more background knowledge of the players playing or not. I prefer to leave the past where it is. I know Michael Carrick is a good player. I know he can be useful in an England set-up, and that's enough for me. I'll take it on face value."
As for picking Andy Carroll, who is out of favour at Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, Hodgson confronted the uncomfortable truth that he may well, in the future, have to pick players who are not in their club sides, such is the competition in the Premier League. He did not mince his words over Jack Rodwell either, wondering aloud "how many starts he'll get at Manchester City".
Lampard said that he would like a new deal at Chelsea – his current contract runs out at the end of this season – but that the club had not approached him over it.
"They used to sit down with me three years before the end of my contract," he joked, "now I'm waiting." As for tonight and England, he knows that a lot can change between then and the 2014 World Cup finals.
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