With Steven Gerrard giving his Superman cape and underpants a well-earned rest and David Beckham absent, closing the Real Madrid season and the era of the galacticos with two goals against Seville, Frank Lampard was the star attraction from England's lauded midfield on the Algarve last week. It is a measure of the Chelsea player's reinvention over the past four years that had the England captain and the saviour of Liverpool been present, he would have presented a formidable case for that title regardless.
In 2002 Lampard was "craving to be David Beckham", having been spurned by Sven Goran Eriksson on the eve of the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. In many respects, such as his influence on England's qualifying campaign for 2006, he has now usurped him.
As England travelled east in 2002 a despondent Lampard contemplated his rejection on holiday in the United States, the ambition and the reality of his international career heading in opposite directions. On that vacation he vowed to confront the setback with the same resolve that had enabled him to cope with serious asthma as a youngster and to step out of the shadow of a famous father, the West Ham legend Frank Snr, with an £11m transfer to Stamford Bridge in 2001. While two consecutive championships with Chelsea and a runners-up place behind Ronaldinho in the 2005 Fifa World Player of the Year Awards demonstrate the strength of the commitment he brought home from America, it serves Lampard's purpose as a self-made international not to forget the frustrations that have driven him so far.
"It was a big disappointment not to be involved in the last one and, yes, I was upset to miss out on the World Cup," said the 27-year-old, who was England's leading scorer in the recent qualifiers. "I was determined not to experience that feeling again so I went away, worked hard and came back to training with a positive rather than a negative mindset. I said to myself that I wanted to get in the England team and stay there, and I did that not long after. I don't think there was much to change; there was not one particular thing, I think it was more of a mental thing than a physical thing or a question of technique.
"Every footballer has a setback along the way, whether they are a schoolboy or a youth-team player. You get rejection, but it is the measure of a top player whether they come back."
Along with the pressure of having to match up to a famous parent - "There were many times when I thought I wouldn't make it as a kid, when I had a bad game or your dad tells you you're crap," he said - the midfielder was also hindered by health problems before he entered the fruitful youth academy at West Ham.
"My dad suffered from asthma and so did I as a kid," he explained. "I used to have attacks during games and in Sunday football I'd just have to come off the pitch at times. I had a pump inhaler but fortunately I grew out of it and haven't been plagued with it since I was about 13 or 14. It's a bad thing to happen and it's no exaggeration to say that when you get your first asthma attack you feel like you're dying, because you can't get your breath. It was another reason why I thought I wouldn't make it."
Today, however, he is a key player for his country and for the Premiership champions, revelling in the responsibility and expectation that his form and fame has attracted. The hysterical reactions of the holidaymakers when Lampard walked through their midst at Vale do Lobo and the countless interview requests he received are all part of his belated celebrity, but only in Germany - where he will turn 28 on 20 June - will he have his first opportunity to demonstrate his skills before a global audience and to justify Jose Mourinho's decision to call him "the best player in the world".
"When I was on the fringes of the squad I was craving to be a David Beckham or a Michael Owen," said Lampard; "The expectation that comes with playing for England is what you strive for as a player. I am not going to say I am there but I hope to make the sort of contribution one of those players would. I enjoy it. It brings pressure, but a good pressure. If you want to make your mark at the top level you have to handle that pressure. We have a lot of world-class players in our team and this is going to be the stage when they're going to have to show that.
"Euro 2004 was a great memory for me, a big moment in my career. It makes you. People start to talk about you and you feel more confident in yourself. The World Cup will be even more so. We stand on the brink of an opportunity to make history not just for ourselves but as a team. These are the tournaments you want to sit back at the end of your career and say, 'Yes, I was successful' rather than 'I wish I could have done better.'"
Challenges remain for Lampard for both the World Cup, where he must complement Gerrard - and quickly - to spare Eriksson from having to separate the country's finest midfield talents, and beyond, with the arrival of Michael Ballack at Stamford Bridge posing an intricate problem for Mourinho next season.
"There is only a certain group of players in world football who can improve our squad and Michael Ballack is one of them," the midfielder said.
It is to his credit that Eriksson would undoubtedly say the same about Lampard.
Uncapped Dawson joins Eriksson's squad
The Tottenham Hotspur defender Michael Dawson has been called into England's World Cup squad as a standby.
The 22-year-old Dawson replaces Luke Young, who withdrew at the weekend after aggravating an ankle injury in training. Dawson, who is uncapped, has enjoyed an excellent season as Spurs finished fifth in the Premiership and qualified for next season's Uefa Cup, missing out on the Champions' League only on the last day of the season to Arsenal.
The former Nottingham Forest defender has never been picked for Sven Goran Eriksson's full squad before but has been a regular at Under-21 level recently. He will join his new international team-mates when they gather in Watford today.Reuse content