Jason Burt: Lampard has the Mourinho seal of approval

'I prefer Frank Lampard when he is not 100 per cent than another player when he is playing at his best'
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The Independent Football

Big salaries? Now that appeared an extraordinary admission, even if it came from such a plain speaker. It was, also, too extraordinary. "No," Mourinho corrected when the penny had dropped that he had been misheard. "No," he added, speaking slowly. "Beat Sunderland."

Yesterday's visitors to Stamford Bridge were indeed to be met head-on in Mourinho's bullish planning. "That's life," he said of England and the Republic of Ireland's disappointment. "You have to bounce, always."

That "bouncebackability" will also be felt, he hopes, by this week's Champions' League opponents, Anderlecht. Indeed, Mourinho revealed that last week he had pored over DVDs of five matches played by the Belgian side. "I can say they are a good team and it will be a hard game," Mourinho said cagily on Friday, also revealing that John Terry may make an unexpectedly early return from a knee injury. "It's what I'm waiting for."

Mourinho spent much of last week waiting - and watching, taking in the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, a game featuring Didier Drogba and Géremi. He also anticipated that he would be asked his opinion on England, Sven Goran Eriksson and of course Lampard, who will now have to deal with the ill-judged, confidence-damaging tag given to him by his national coach of being a "slow starter". Mourinho did not want to be drawn, but there were clues as to his thinking.

"You can be here with 20 questions," he said, "but I'm not going to criticise Mr Eriksson and I'm not going to criticise Frank Lampard. With Mr Eriksson, when the players are with England they belong to England, and he can say what he wants. In relation to Frank Lampard I'm speaking about the Frank Lampard with Chelsea Football Club, and I'm very happy with his performances."

Sometimes, even with a man as sure of his public utterances as Mourinho, it is what is not said rather than what is said that matters. And so Mourinho is happy with the Lampard of CFC. Not of England. And he was happy his player was back with the former, not mired with the latter.

"What I try to work with my players has no consequence about what they do for their national team," Mourinho said. "The only thing we cannot control is the physical differences. Some [of them] train a lot, some not, some completely different from what we do at Chelsea. But the psychological point of view is something I work with. I want them to go to the national team and forget Chelsea, and I want them to forget the national team when they are with Chelsea."

Lampard has reason enough to forget England right now and, interestingly, three times Mourinho said: "For me, Frank is playing very well." The inference was clear. "For me he is playing very well... for Chelsea."

He went on: "He played very well in Tottenham, important role. Scored two goals against West Bromwich, played very well. Against Arsenal in the midfield battle he is what he is. Against Wigan he did not play well because no one played well."

Lampard, he said, choosing his words ever more carefully, is playing "enough" and will certainly not, with 10 more consecutive Premiership appearances needed to beat David James's record of 160 unbroken games, be rested.

"I prefer Frank Lampard when he is not playing 100 per cent than another player when he is playing at his best level," Mourinho stressed. "That's my choice. Every manager has his choice."

Eriksson also made a choice. To change formation and try and ape Mourinho's 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1) at Chelsea. What did he think? Again Mourinho was cryptic. But clear. "It works for Chelsea because we have players who play that system," he said. "We have worked for 15 months on it. The players are happy with that system. I don't think any system is perfect, every one has good points and weak points. What a manager has to do is hide the weaknesses of the system."

And that is something Eriksson has not done. One reason, surely, was his choice of David Beckham as the defensive midfielder? "The role is one of the most important roles, as he is the link between defence and midfield," Mourinho said when asked about the value of his own choice there, Claude Makelele. "A high percentage of recovery balls, big criteria of passes."

There was also, possibly, a clue as to how he would adapt the system if he was in charge of England. "You can play 4-3-3 with two players in midfield and one behind the strikers," Mourinho said. It was an adaptation which would, immediately, get the best out of Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney - and mitigate against the lack of a Makelele.

Still, Mourinho conceded, he is not happy with Chelsea's own start - an unhappiness that Makelele revealed when he said the team were a "long way off what we were last season". "Yes," agreed Mourinho. "But now the team is going like I want because it is improving week by week. So I am happy."

And happiest of all to have his players, especially those who are English, back from international duty.