World Cup 2014: Frank Lampard eyes MLS move after revealing Chelsea exit
Midfielder weighing up his options after 13 years at Chelsea
It is almost 15 years since Frank Lampard won his first England cap at the age of 21, and 15 years in international football is an eternity. David Beckham managed 13 years between his first and his last. Sir Bobby Charlton did 12 years’ service from 1958 to 1970. Alan Shearer, captain on the day that Lampard made his debut, only played eight years for England.
Tomorrow at the Sun Life Stadium against Ecuador, Lampard, 36 later this month, will captain England, perhaps for the last time. He has worn the armband and led the team out six times in recent years over the course of 103 caps, and he has seen some ups and down since he first played against Belgium in October 1999, alongside team-mates ranging from Tony Adams to Steve Guppy and his cousin Jamie Redknapp.
Lampard was not quite prepared to say explicitly that the World Cup will be his last hurrah as an England footballer but he might as well have done. He has already called time on Chelsea and his 13 years there will officially end when his contract expires at the end of this month. He said today that he will make a decision after the World Cup finals about his future although he admitted that “America is an option”. The new MLS franchise New York City remains his most obvious choice.
Even so, he found it hard, he said “to get the words out” when it came to saying that this summer would be the end of his England career. “I'm very proud and very happy to play for England, so I won't say it. If we go and win it [the World Cup], I'll probably hang my boots up! I don't like to say it. I love playing. It's kind of obvious it comes in the end. I'm just appreciating and enjoying every minute at the moment.
“I won't say it at this point. I've never said it before and I've had plenty of opportunities to do so. Most players finish with England in their low 30s at the most. I've had some of my most enjoyable England years in the back-end, in the last two years. I've enjoyed and appreciated what I've got. When you're young you don't always appreciate being in the squad, the ambiance around the squad. That's why I won't write myself off yet.”
He will captain a changed England side tomorrow, with a rest granted to captain Steven Gerrard for whom Lampard is now effectively an understudy – having once been his midfield partner. That, and other aspects of his England career, have not always been straightforward. After his debut in 1999, he did not play again for another 14 months. His first tournament was Euro 2004, when he was almost 26, and when he established himself as a key player.
Like others in the England side, he has never come back from another tournament with the same sense of personal satisfaction. At the 2006 World Cup finals, he was one of a number of English players who struggled for form, and missed a penalty in the shoot-out against Portugal. At 2010 he was better, and it might have been different if his legitimate goal against Germany had stood.
He missed the 2012 European championships through injury and was part of a squad that did not qualify in 2008. He has not scored a tournament goal since his three at Euro 2004. The finals in Brazil represent one last chance and asked if he was “along for the ride”, Lampard said that was certainly the case.
“I think that's we all are here for. It's a fantastic ride. It's a World Cup at 35; 36 years of age when I come out of it. You can argue over who is a cover player or not, you can go through the squad. We were talking about Wayne Rooney and you were talking about whether he is a starter. We're all in the boat where we want to play and we want to contribute - whether we start, whether we are a sub.
“It doesn't bother me thinking about being a cover player or a starter. I will do my best to start a game. But I am very respectful of the manager. I do see my role here in a broader sense - as I think all the experienced players should have. Trying to help things go in the right direction. We've been here before, we've been here when it hasn't been so great. We know the slight pitfalls and if we bring that experience to help we will do that.”
There has not been the same awkwardness that there was over his Chelsea future last season when the club delayed a contract decision until late in the day. His decision to leave was, Lampard said, “a very mutual decision.”
“It was obviously thrown up a lot last year and a bit of a distraction during the season, probably for everyone. It [the saga] got its own legs. Chelsea have been fantastic with me throughout my career and it was mutual. And that's the way I wanted to go. I maybe would have gone away last year in a different way, but now I go with a very happy feeling and respect for the club. There have been lots of conversations in part of the season going up to after the season.”
As for his best moments in a Chelsea shirt, “Munich in the Champions League final sticks out a mile”, he said. “The first Premier League title [in 2005] was absolutely massive. Up until the Champions League I would always have said that. Winning the big one [in 2012], and sharing it with team-mates with whom I'd been playing for a long time, fighting to win it and stumbling at the final hurdle, that night in Munich and the day or two after it were the best moments of my football life by a long way.”
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