Were the FA commission, set up to identify and rectify the structural barriers impeding the development of English players, to begin its work in the England dressing-room it might conclude that very little is wrong. Wembley was awash with euphoria on Friday night, Montenegro slain 4-1 by a swashbuckling England side fired by a reconstituted Wayne Rooney and a supernova down the right-hand side.
The emergence of Tottenham's Andros Townsend, the deployment of the two Dan's Sturridge and Welbeck at the vanguard of a mobile strike force reinforced by a resurgent Rooney is beginning to stir the old juices. England are a home victory against Poland from qualification for the World Cup in Brazil, which amounts to the convergence of all that is mystical in football, not to mention potential recompense for that night 40 years ago when a Polish goalkeeper named Jan Tomaszewski denied Allan 'sniffer' Clarke et al passage to the World Cup in Germany with a career-defining display at Wembley.
Victory on Tuesday shall doubtless render the nation senseless, removing at a stroke the capacity to think rationally about the national team. The FA commission should go underground, working out of sight only resurfacing after the World Cup with answers to the questions England's participation in Brazil will inevitably raise. For now we dream. And who would deny players of Frank Lampard's vintage that privilege as they approach the end of distinguished careers.
"It is a huge game. For me, for everyone. Not just the fact it may be my last World Cup, it is the fact there is an England team wanting to get there," Lampard said. "Brazil is one of the homes of football. We believe we are the home of football but if you look at history, the flamboyance... We played there in the summer and you could feel the magic around the place. If you are playing for your country you want to be there."
Victory over Montenegro was delivered emphatically after a typically rushed first half in which England perspired more than inspired. Rooney's goal early in the second period was received like a double gin and tonic, in other words a relaxant that allowed the conversation to flow.
"The first goal was telling," Lampard explained. "It settled everyone down even though we had to wait for it. We needed a win and it was nice to get a comfortable one. It could have been more, so it was good to take into Tuesday."
Poland's narrow defeat to Ukraine ended their interest in the qualification process, but not according to Lampard their desire to shine at Wembley. "They have some big-name players in their team and we know they will want to come here and put on a show regardless of whether they have qualified or not. They will be relaxed and we have to make that sure we have the extra edge as we need the win to go to Brazil. We need to come out firing on Tuesday, no matter what they do. I believe we will hold our nerve."
Lampard's optimism is in part rooted in the return of Rooney to something like his substantial best. Rooney's decision-making and calm authority in front of goal transformed the landscape on Friday. England are unique among the major powers in playing their home fixtures at one venue. The anchor to Wembley creates its own dynamic, one that is utterly divorced from the conventional atmosphere in English stadia. There is a degree of separation between team and supporter, a lack of proper intimacy that does not serve the team well. Rooney cut through the formality allowing England to play.
"Yes, Wayne is very fit and fresh at the minute. You have seen that from some of his Manchester United performances. He has a very clear head. When he is playing like that, he is such a world-class talent and he makes a difference. His awareness and goalscoring will see him break the record for England [49 goals]. When you have players like that, with his energy and enthusiasm, it will rub off."
Lampard is savouring the mood, enjoying the sense of anticipation evinced by the prospect of a final World Cup appearance in Brazil. "There is a lot of desire. Me and Stevie [Gerrard] have been here a long time. I don't know, Stevie may have aspirations to carry on in an England shirt but for us it is a huge thing. It will be fantastic in Brazil and an England team not being there would be a bad thing. I think it is pushing all of us on."Reuse content