'I didn't see this coming.' Lampard delight at going from scapegoat to captain

Midfielder to lead Chelsea trio looking to reassert their international futures against Denmark tonight
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The Independent Football

It might be a dismal time of the year to be in Copenhagen – and he has to come back here in two weeks with Chelsea in the Champions League – but that did not stop Frank Lampard from admitting yesterday that he is excited about leading England out as captain for the first time tonight.

Lampard is part of a familiar core to tonight's remodelled England team that includes his Chelsea team-mates John Terry and Ashley Cole. The presence of Jack Wilshere means that this friendly against Denmark will go down as the night a bright young English talent was launched on the international scene with his first start – but it is also about some old faces reminding Fabio Capello that they are not finished yet.

Lampard and Terry have not featured for England since the first post-World Cup finals friendly in August, when a much resented, utterly dejected England did just enough to beat Hungary. Then, with elimination to Germany in Bloemfontein still fresh in the national consciousness, there was a fervour for change. Since that game injury has prevented Lampard and Terry from answering the mounting criticisms.

It has been arguably worse for Lampard, who previously had lived something of a charmed life with injuries. Having only missed, he said, "two months in 10 years" through injury he has now been out "four months in half a season". "I'm a bit more balanced now," he said. "When I was younger I was desperate to get back into the fray in case people started to forget me. As you get older, you start concentrating on yourself more."

Over the last five years first Lampard and then Terry have become a focus for the dissatisfaction with this current England team. Tonight, in the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard they could both do with decent performances that remove any question mark over their position in the team for the remainder of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

As for Cole, this occasion will be memorable for another reason. His 87th cap tonight means that he will pass Kenny Sansom's record for a full-back and will, in Lampard's words, confirm his status as "England's best left-back now, officially".

Lampard, 32, has been captain once before when he was passed the armband in a win over Austria in November 2007, a warm-up before the defeat to Croatia that meant England did not qualify for Euro 2008. "It [the captaincy] is a huge thing," he said. "It's taken its time to come. I've played under quite a few captains and I've waited patiently to get the call, but it means a huge deal.

"It's the highest honour you can get in football, playing for your country and then captaining them. I can't wait. I'm very excited. I didn't see this one coming. There was a late dropout [Gerrard]. But the last day or so has been very exciting for me."

There is no doubt that Capello is placing great store in the emergence of Wilshere who, in the space of one month he has compared to Claude Makelele and, yesterday, Andrea Pirlo. Not bad for a 19-year-old who has played just seven minutes at international level. But if the torch is going to be passed to the next generation over the next 18 months then it will require Lampard to stick around a while longer to oversee the transition.

There was a time when he was blue-eyed boy of the England midfield during his emergence as a regular in the national team in the 2003-04 season, which culminated in his three goals at Euro 2004. Two years later at the 2006 World Cup finals the England fans' love affair with Lampard tailed off dramatically and now his 83 caps and 20 goals contend with a feeling of fans' resentment at the disappointment of the last seven years.

But to give Lampard his due, he is in no mood to quit. His most serious injury in a sequence of setbacks this season was tearing the tendon around his groin, yet the appetite is unbowed and he wants to play on as long as possible. Asked if, like David Beckham, he would go on into his mid-thirties Lampard said he would. "I think I will ... unless it becomes evident that I'm completely not wanted. Without a doubt, I'll do that.

"I'm not one of those players who wants to keep the youngsters out for myself. You have to encourage and embrace it, and try to bring yourself on. You want the best for the team and the squad. Seeing Wilshere, and [Josh] McEachran at Chelsea, coming through is great because I was that player once. I wasn't as young as them [when he broke into the England squad]. You need that with the younger lads coming through, otherwise you become stale. You need it to drive you on."

Lampard is one of six survivors in the current squad who played in the England team that was embarrassed in a 4-1 defeat to Denmark in August 2005 at the Parken Stadium. Glen Johnson, a half-time substitute that night, did not even get another cap for another two and a half years. An "awful night" as Lampard recalled yesterday.

"I won't go around shouting and trying to change my style," he said. "It would be a bit embarrassing if I changed in front of the lads just because I'm captain." He is the senior figure now, albeit with an edge that suggests, more than 11 years since his debut, he is taking nothing for granted.