Lampard's fall from grace sealed by Wembley jeers

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The Independent Online

He was last on the pitch and, at the end, the first off it. Frank Lampard's introduction as a 70th-minute substitute for Michael Owen was met with unmistakable booing from the England's supporters. As he headed down the tunnel, just a few seconds after the final whistle 23 minutes later, wrapped in a blue Estonia shirt, head bowed, he looked a mix of frustration – and anger.

This isn't how it is supposed to be for Lampard who, whatever his faults, his perceived arrogance and self-regard, is one of the hardest-working and most dedicated of footballers. It is difficult to explain quite how things have come to this for him as he won his 58th cap for his country. But they have.

Twice England player of the year – in 2004 and 2005 – an award voted for, lest it be forgotten, by the fans, the 29-year-old endured a poor World Cup after being leading scorer in the qualifying campaign, and has not seen his fortunes for his country recover. Too often he is identified as the root cause of the problem rather than the solution. Lampard faced calls for his demotion at last year's tournament and has not done enough on the pitch to assuage those calls. Lamps' light has dimmed.

Maybe he suffers in comparison to Steven Gerrard. The mantra that the two cannot play together – surely won't rather than can't – has become ingrained while the emergence of Gareth Barry from Lampard's shadow has put his place under serious threat. A recall against Russia on Wednesday, at Barry's expense at least, is unlikely.

To accommodate Lampard England went to a 4-1-4-1 (or a 4-3-3 as manager Steve McClaren would have it – even if that did not quite transpire) but that only served to cut off Barry's ability to supply. England began to grind to a halt. That was not Lampard's fault. But when he struck a badly misplaced pass woefully behind Joleon Lescott and out of play, and then clumsily overhit another to Shaun Wright-Phillips, it prompted more angry catcalls.

Barry collected the man-of-the-match award, to further, inadvertently, rub salt in Lampard's wounds, even if the Aston Villa midfielder was not quite as accomplished as in his previous two appearances. He was certainly good enough but Joe Cole was marginally a stronger candidate.

It also fell to Cole to defend Lampard, his Chelsea team-mate. "I don't understand it," Cole said of the vilification. "He's brilliant, fantastic and it's something that should not happen. He is one of the best players in the world. He's never let England or Chelsea down and he doesn't deserve it."

It also should not be forgotten that Lampard has only just recovered from a thigh muscle tear while – like John Terry and Gerrard – he has a broken toe. In fact he needs reconstructive surgery on a damaged tendon and probably should not be playing at all. Yet no sympathy is garnered.

Lampard is not the only England player to have been jeered. Indeed it is not the only time he has been targeted. At the end of last season he was goaded during the friendly against Brazil even if their coach Dunga singled out Lampard for praise. And, just two matches ago, David Bentley was booed as he was introduced as a substitute against Israel. Lampard's crime, rather than not wanting to play for his country, as Bentley did by absenting himself from the under-21 European Championships, appears to be to want to play too much.

Against Andorra last March, when Lampard was left out because of injury, or at least that was the version peddled by McClaren, there was talk that he had been dropped and reacted by attempting to fly out on a private jet. He denied it but the accusation stuck.

Lampard has acknowledged that part of the problem may be the club he plays for. That could be true, but it doesn't explain it all. Barry's emergence has also sated another thing: the demand to move away from the cult of personality. Lampard has become a player in more ways than one. His desire to ape "Brand Beckham" is obvious with his forays into advertising, with his own mobile phone "Frank TV" – and with an ill-received book.

Indeed Lampard could learn from Cole who has eschewed, to an extent, such exposure and squirmed when asked why the Chelsea players now called him "Zizou" – the nickname of Zinedine Zidane. "It's a great comparison," Cole said. "But it's a bit embarrassing. I wish they didn't say it any more." As he spoke Lampard walked away. He refused to speak to the media. "I'm having a day off," he said. He could have been forgiven for wishing that had, indeed, been the case.

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