Lampard dismisses 'slow starter' label

Chelsea's inspirational midfielder tells Andy Hunter why he thinks the England manager has the wrong impression of him
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Lampard was penalised by Graham Poll six days ago for a gesture that the referee reasoned could inflame an already volatile situation at Anfield when he responded to converting a penalty in front of the Kop by pressing his finger to his mouth. With Jose Mourinho having previously enraged Liverpool's sensibilities with an identical action in the Carling Cup final the decision to follow suit brought predictable venom upon the midfielder and a premature end to his euphoria, though compared to the hurt he suffered when singled out for disapproval with England last month it was no surprise that he remained unaffected and instrumental in Chelsea's ultimately commanding defeat of their Champions' League nemesis.

Sven Goran Eriksson could have railed against almost every player he awarded an England cap in Belfast, and as an exercise in deflecting attention away from his own silent leadership perhaps he should have done. Instead, there were further accusations about the contribution of the Footballer of the Year alongside the belated critique of Wayne Rooney's tempestuous display at Windsor Park as Eriksson repeated claims first aired in Cardiff that Chelsea's influential organiser was a notoriously slow starter to a season.

Six goals in 11 appearances for the reigning champions, who boast a flawless defence of their title, suggest that it is Eriksson who has been slow to start utilising Lampard's strengths for England rather than having a pool of outstanding talent which slid to defeat in Denmark and Northern Ireland while they waited for the 27-year-old to find his feet. The England manager revealed yesterday that he had not yet spoken to Lampard about the new penalty-taking role he has taken over from David Beckham though, a month on from the painful World Cup qualifiers, the midfielder was quick to seek a quiet audience with the Swede this week.

"I have spoken at length to the manager about all that stuff about me being a slow starter," said Lampard. "Though when he put it to me he explained that was not what he meant. I admit I didn't play as well as I can in the last two England games but I don't think it's right to say that I have had a slow start to the season. I'm very happy with my club form and I'm not a slow starter. Maybe I'm not at my best but if I came into a season on top form I would be worried about whether I could sustain that all the way through the season and then into the World Cup."

The insinuation left Lampard needing to work on more than just his relationship with Steven Gerrard when he reported for international duty on Tuesday and, though since reassured by Eriksson, he insists the England coach retains his utmost respect ahead of two fixtures that could define or destroy his reign.

"You always want to play well for your manager when you have a good relationship with him," he explained. "I have that with Mourinho, the Liverpool players have it with Benitez and when you have a strong relationship like that you want to do it for them. It's no different with England."

Only in the international arena, however, has Lampard endured criticism for the level of his performances this season and, while he insists the differing style of his managers is not a contributory factor, an explanation lies in the attitude he encounters only with England. The home dressing-room at Old Trafford today will contain reigning European champions, galacticos present and past and domestic champions, but it is only at Stamford Bridge where Lampard is assured of finding the mentality of a team living up to its potential.

He explains: "Results have been great at Chelsea and that does bring with it a winning mentality and a feeling of confidence going into every game. When you are on a winning run and you suddenly suffer a loss you're desperate to get back on the winning run straight away because there's nothing better than that feeling of confidence that comes with winning every week. But it's not that simple in football to think confidence from one team should immediately transfer into another team. We have to keep in mind how it felt after Denmark and especially after Northern Ireland but we must also be positive and find that winning mentality again.

"Every team has moments when things aren't going well and it's up to the players to stand up and be counted. Now is the time when we must do that for England."