James Lawton: Capello's revelatory flash of wisdom lights way for Lampard and Gerrard

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Can it really be true that sometime in late afternoon or early evening the light currently being shed on the affairs of England's national football team by Fabio Capello will come finally to bathe the confusion that grips Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard whenever they perform on the same side?

There is some encouragement to believe so because Il Capo has apparently come up with an astonishing initiative. He is treating the matter as something within the remit of a professional coach paid millions of pounds a year to draw the best out of players widely rated among the best in the world.

Even more breathtakingly, he has indicated that this wearisomely long-time issue is about to be resolved one way or another against the modest force of Kazakhstan.

Either Lampard, aged 30, and the 28-year-old Gerrard, prove finally that their brains do not automatically turn to shredded wheat whenever they simultaneously pull on the shirts of their nation or they go their separate ways. One is to the wasteland of unfulfilled potential – the other is to some justification of their vast reputations, to which Lampard did add, let us be fair, a little flesh in Gerrard's absence during the impressive victory over Croatia in Zagreb last month.

In the face of such a possibility there is only one appropriate word. It is Hallelujah.

Hallelujah for the revelatory flash that never came when Sven Goran Eriksson stood and blinked and did not much else on the training field and his assistant and successor, Steve McClaren, fussed around with training cones that, in the end, might have been just as effectively placed around one of the building sites on the M1.

Hallelujah, too, for the simplicity of Capello's approach – and the irritation that floods his face when it is suggested that international footballers of the standing of Gerrard and Lampard are somehow powerless to read a game with something more profound on their minds than the next opportunity to show themselves at their best.

Perhaps Gerrard did something to create today's moments of truth with his recent declaration that he, too, had rarely been allowed to perform in his best, rampaging position in central midfield. Maybe he has provoked Capello to make the timeless point that great players have never been known to complain about being out of position because great players tend to have an unerring instinct to be in the right place at the right time. In the case of the supreme example of football greatness, Pele, this sometimes could be to be in place to receive a simple pass and work the ball to a position of maximum danger in one basic touch into the path of a team-mate. It was, as one of Pele's greatest admirers, the reasonably accomplished midfielder Sir Bobby Charlton – who for several seasons swelled his record goals total for his country from the left wing, a position he essentially detested – said, "Pele was so brilliantly gifted that often it was forgotten that a key aspect of his greatness was his humility. If the simple thing best helped his team at any one moment that is what he would produce."

What Capello has to do today is simply carry Gerrard and Lampard beyond the tactical stereotypes and crayon-drawn demarcation lines. He has to reminded Gerrard and Lampard of a few of the game's classic truths. He has to invite them to consider why players like Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, who once beat England at Wembley without it being recalled distinctly that he ever crossed the halfway line, and one of his particular favourites, Franco Baresi, will always be remembered not only for their lovely talent but also their wonderfully honed instinct about when to go and when to stay.

One of the warmest admirers of Gerrard's natural talent, Liverpool's legendary Ian St John, who moved from a brilliant striking phase of his career to years of fine craft in the Anfield midfield, wonders if the heart of the problem existing between two great club players lies in the treacherous zone of ego.

"When you look at them performing for their clubs," says St John, "it is truly baffling to consider their lack of effect when they are together for England. They are far too old for anyone to suggest that experience will bring any improvement. That's ludicrous when you consider how many caps they have won. No, you have to worry that neither of them are willing to take a subordinate role when it matters.

"I remember playing midfield with the young Emlyn Hughes, who would become a great player, particularly in defence, but never seemed to understand that if I'd gone forward, he had to stay back. So often I would see both of us chasing back when one of us should have been facing the ball and when I pointed this out to Bill Shankly he said, 'Ah, well, the boy's young and a bit impetuous.' And I said, 'yes, but meanwhile the team is suffering.' We are not talking rocket science here. A team's formation, and the position of individual players, is fixed only at kick-off – for the rest of the time it is always in response to the position of the ball.

"Perhaps Capello will finally get this through. Otherwise, maybe he will have to say in relation to Gerrard and Lampard it is time to call the whole thing off."

Meanwhile, Gareth Barry, a player who may lack the supreme talent of Gerrard and the attacking bite of Lampard but who has impressed Capello with his discipline and his understanding of what is expected of him and – maybe just as significantly – what is not, may be held in reserve for the more serious test against Belarus in Minsk. Whatever his fate, he can be content that he has proved to the man who shapes his international future that he can be trusted with one of the game's most precious secrets.

It is, of course, that no amount of talent in the world will ever compensate for a failure to understand that even the most luminous footballer will never be more than a part of a team. If ever there was a time for this to dawn on Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard it is surely today.

Cipriani needs to devote his talents to all things rugby

I wish I could be more grateful for the insight provided by former World Cup-winning scrum half Matt Dawson into the day Danny Cipriani, the great hope of English rugby, was knocked down by his Wasps and England team-mate Josh Lewsey.

Dawson advised the headline-grabbing Cipriani that he must deal with his fellow professionals according to their different natures. "If," he said, "you get confrontational with Josh he can become tense, so it is important just to ease off. But with someone else, he might have to puff his chest out and stand his ground."

What would be best of all, you have to suspect, is that instead of revelling in his instant fame and developing a fine sense of which of his team-mates might turn out to be border-line psychotic, he gets on with the huge challenge of developing a potentially great talent. Unlike the celebrity world to which he seems so drawn, high-level professional sport does not provide a series of rehearsals. It is here today, along with the paparazzi, but not necessarily tomorrow.

The greatest of games is heading straight to hell

As the news that the great Twenty-20 cash torrent has been saved warmed the hearts of those who will take part – and secure their futures in a rather insecure world – it was, frankly, less than uplifting to hear the likes of Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell tell us that huge golden trough apart, the challenge they are really looking forward to is next summer's Ashes.

Maybe you are reassured, lovers of the real game of cricket to which the grotesque affair in Antigua is so loosely attached – and sponsored by a man candid about his hatred of Test cricket.

Or perhaps you are a little further embedded in the sense that the game, as it has been known and cherished all these years, is going to hell.

If so, prepare for the charge that you are out of sync with the real world, deplorably stuck in the mud, and that really you should feel good for the lads who have found their one big pot of undreamed wealth. All of which might, of course, be conceded a little more happily if you weren't quite so certain that the greatest of games will soon be lodged in the myths – and the mists – of old times.

Comments