Maybe Old Father Time will succeed where Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello all failed and facilitate a working relationship between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The passing of the years, as much as anything, means Roy Hodgson has a higher chance of solving English football's great conundrum than his benighted predecessors.
Gerrard and Lampard, dynamic behemoths for their clubs at home and abroad, have never made the same impact in harness for England. This is primarily because both players are attack-minded and seek to push forward whenever possible. This is fine when the likes of Lucas or John Obi Mikel are behind them to mind the back door, but not when they are in unison.
Eriksson used to insist "they are good players, they are intelligent players, of course they can play well together". They did not do so often enough for the Swede, nor when the same assertion was made in an English or Italian accent. It seemed neither man was selfless enough to sacrifice themselves for the greater glory – especially if the glory would go to their rival.
The memory still lingers of England hanging on to a point during a World Cup qualifier in Vienna eight years ago this week, having conceded two goals in as many minutes. England managed a rare counter-attack, and both Gerrard and Lampard went bombing into the box. Each had scored that night, but Austria had the momentum and England needed their central midfielders to close the game down. Eriksson's response was swift: Jamie Carragher came on as a holding midfielder and Gerrard was withdrawn.
Back then, however, Gerrard was 24 and Lampard 26. Both players could tear up and down the pitch for 90 minutes at club level and expected to do the same in the international arena. Against good teams that left England's central defence exposed.
Now they have a joint age of 66. They are more experienced, more mature and also feeling the effects of playing more than 1,500 matches between them. Lampard has begun to modify his game at club level, playing a deeper role, while Gerrard showed at Euro 2012, perhaps because he now wears the armband and is conscious of the responsibility and status that brings, that he can play a holding role.
The time thus seemed right for Hodgson to play them in tandem, especially against such moderate opposition. It is not hard to see why he wants it to work. Well though Scott Parker played at Euro 2012, Gerrard and Lampard are better at keeping possession and carry a greater goal threat.
The experiment worked so well Hodgson was able to conclude it at half-time. While Tom Cleverley played off Jermain Defoe, Lampard and Gerrard took turns to push on. It was Gerrard's driving run that created the opening for Cleverley to win the penalty for Lampard's opening goal. Lampard could then be seen sitting deep as Gerrard broke forward and combined with Glen Johnson to produce an opening for Defoe. The success of the pair's new understanding could be seen when, after 29 minutes, Gerrard once more fed Johnson on the right. Instead of pushing into the area again he held his position and watched Johnson pick out Lampard's blindside run to put England two-up.
Ultimately, the game became too easy for England, and bad habits returned. Four minutes from the break another cross came in and both Lampard and Gerrard could be seen bursting forward in an attempt to get on the end of it.
That was not why Hodgson withdrew Gerrard at the break, but he will have made a note of the incident with a view to pointing it out to his senior midfielders before England play Ukraine on Tuesday. That will be a better test for England's revived galactico partnership.Reuse content