Many moons ago an enterprising photographer persuaded three of West Ham United's brightest young men, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick, to pose at the Chadwell Heath training ground, in front of a picture of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters in their World Cup pomp.
After the younger generation had finished training with England yesterday, sadly without Lampard's contemporary and another former Hammer, Rio Ferdinand, it proved impossible to resist inviting comparisons of ambition, if not achievement. Lampard, an old media hand in his professional and personal life, played it well: "Yeah, that's there. You know the romance of it. You know how they're held in people's memories, how people look at them and respect them. When you see Sir Geoff Hurst now, everyone holds him in that ultra-respect, and quite rightly so. There's a magic to that. Those men deserved that. Hopefully we can get somewhere near that. We haven't quite achieved that. Hopefully we can do something."
Getting "somewhere near" and doing "something" are the sort of terms in which England players tend to speak these days. The years of shouting the odds in "bring it on" fashion are gone, amid unhappy memories of penalty shoot-outs, red cards, umbrellas and sodden dreams. Even after completing the Double with Chelsea and scoring 20-plus goals in a season again, Lampard can even avoid any sin of pride by reflecting on two successive penalty misses for the first time he could recall.
He retains the job, and the manager's confidence, for England and now finds himself promoted to vice-captain under Steven Gerrard as the pair of them seek greater reward from a third World Cup than in their previous attempts. "I'm not sure about unfinished business," he said. "It's football. You can't have success everywhere you go and every year. That last World Cup wasn't great for me personally, and wasn't fantastic for the team. We got knocked out in the quarter-final again.
"A World Cup is very difficult to win, but you don't get that many of them in your career," he added. "This could possibly be my last. Probably my last. For me, it's business that I want to do well in so I can look back and say I was part of a team that was successful. Personally successful, too."
No more talk of the golden generation, though some of them remain – wiser, it must be hoped, for their experiences. As Lampard says: "A lot of us are maybe more confident in a way because of the experience of being there, but by the same token we know how difficult a competition this is. For all the excitement and the build-up, people can fancy our chances, but we know we have to go and perform. I think we're confident but we're very settled in our minds and want to get going."
He was "sick in the stomach" when he realised that his friend Ferdinand would miss out, but he is backing up Gerrard and the new players' liaison man, David Beckham, in trying to ensure that neither negativity nor any sense of ill fate takes a hold among the squad. "That's the only way you can take it: as a team and as a public, an England fan. There's no point in dwelling on it. We're all disappointed for Rio and it doesn't make it any worse to say that, but you now have to look forward and be positive. We all want to be successful. Rio wants us to be successful. He won't want things to go downhill now because of that. The only way to be is positive about it."
Similarly with those penalties. Watch Lampard grab the ball if another is awarded, or a free-kick within shooting range. He is pleased with the effect of the new World Cup ball at altitude. "It moves a lot more. The goalkeepers will tell you that. You can see it when you strike the ball. There are going to be a lot more spectacular goals and could even be a lot more spectacular misses with the way the ball moves about."
As for how it might all be remembered: "I think that, hopefully, we'll look back in history and say the team got together and got stronger for this. We'll miss Rio, but hopefully we can perform."Reuse content