'We needed tough love,' says Lampard

Capello's era of discipline ends England's WAG ways and pays off on the pitch
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The Independent Football

Frank Lampard revealed yesterday that the England players are grateful to Fabio Capello for ridding the squad of the excessive Premier League WAG culture that dogged their 2006 World Cup campaign. The Chelsea midfielder said that Capello's disciplinarian approach had struck a chord with all of them – even him, although it had meant curtailing his own attacking game.

In one of the most open assessments of the Capello regime, 12 matches in, Lampard admitted that after the laissez-faire Steve McClaren era, the England players had responded to a strong leader who had "put us in line a little bit". He said that Capello's strict rules on what players should wear, when they can use mobile phones and on-field discipline had been "a slight culture shock". He added: "But then you start winning games and you get a really good feeling about things."

Rio Ferdinand and Peter Crouch have both declared themselves fit to face Ukraine in the 2010 World Cup qualifier tomorrow. Ferdinand was rested for the win over Slovakia on Saturday as a precaution because of a back problem but he trained yesterday. So too did Crouch who, sore from a kick on the hip from Martin Skrtel on Saturday, has told Capello he is ready if selected as a replacement for the injured Emile Heskey.

As ever, the England players are taking nothing for granted when it comes to Capello's team selection and Lampard spelt out just how much Capello had ushered in a cultural shift among the players. The England midfielder joked that the regime is so tight the players all had to wear the same T-shirts on any given day but that they welcomed the no-nonsense aspect of Capello's rule.

"We needed a very strong [manager]," he said. "Some of the off-the-field stuff he brought in, the discipline around the place in terms of dress, [conduct around the] hotel and at dinner. But also in football terms. We needed a very strong leader who had his own mind. With Capello, you can see that. I used to see it at Madrid. He'd make strong decisions on players.

"Capello was exactly what we needed as a manager. For starters, he picks each squad on merit, watching closely how you're doing for your club, and picks his team a little bit along the same lines as well. As players, it's important we accept that and we do. There's never a question. He's got a very strong aura about him. Everyone has bought into that and we all follow him.

"When he came in, a lot of people made a thing of the last World Cup, the WAGs, implying that the England team didn't care. That was slightly unfair. There was an element of truth in a lot of what was said, but in terms of the lads, we want to win. We just needed someone to put us in line a little bit and [make us] concentrate on what we're doing.

"At times, those things can be a slight culture shock, when you are told you need to do this, you need to wear that. But then you start winning games. You get a belief and it's very easy to handle because you're winning."

Capello laid down a set of rule when he took over his first squad in February last year, including the banning of mobile phones at dinner, making the team hotel off-limits to visitors and encouraging players to rest rather than socialise during the day. For Lampard, it has also meant a change in his tactical role where he is encouraged to play more defensively without the freedom to break forward and score goals.

Lampard said that his goal on Saturday, his first since Capello took over, had come when the personnel changed late in the game and he was pushed forward to play in a different position behind Wayne Rooney. "My new position is a much more disciplined role," he said. "He wants me to play alongside Gareth Barry, not really getting forward too much.

"It's not quite a holding role, but it's more of one than I'd play for Chelsea or for England in the past. It's restrictive in that way, but I see it as for the good of the team. I'll do it and enjoy it. When you are going on winning runs, you do have that element of wanting to get forward, but when the team's winning, it overrides that. You're just happy to be part of a winning group."

Rooney, voted the player of the year by England supporters, did not make an appearance in front of the press yesterday but he has spoken out on the issue of his temper and said that he would not change his approach. Rooney, sent off against Fulham in Manchester United's last game, said: "I do get frustrated but aggression has always been part of my game. The desire to win makes me the player I am. Take that away and I'd be totally different. I'll never get used to losing."

Although Darren Bent has been called into the squad, Crouch is expected to start with Rooney alongside Steven Gerrard in Capello's preferred 4-3-2-1 formation. Lampard said that Capello's approach was to encourage the squad's best players to be "selfless". "I don't want to sound like he [Capello] is a dictator, and that no one can speak to him," Lampard said. "He understands we're all grown men, we're professionals and we want to win.

"To play as a team and a group, you need to have humility and be selfless. You need to work for your mate next to you, to play out of position if that's what is required. That's something he needed to bring, and he's brought."

In a wide-ranging discussion, Lampard also criticised the manner in which young players are developed by modern Premier League academies who no longer put them through the more traditional apprenticeship that he served. "Not enough of them [have the dedication]. It's something I feel very strongly about," he said. "Nowadays, it's made too easy for them.

"That [comfortable] lifestyle is coming earlier and earlier. The lads are forgetting the hard work that needs to be done. Sometimes when you mix with international players at 16 you can forget that you're not there yet. I have had a word with some of them. Players don't clean boots any more. Me and John [Terry] always complain that they should be cleaning boots because being told off by Julian Dicks was a great learning curve for me."