The Nick Townsend Column: Lampard may not be the showman of the year - but show us a better man

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The Independent Football

We enter that season of winter wonderland, when sleigh bells have already begun their ringing, awards are in the offing, debate is ensuing, and winners are protesting, though not with a great deal of conviction, that "this is a great honour, but I dedicate it to the gaffer/boss/coach and my fellow players, without whom..."

Actually, Ronaldinho wasn't particularly moved to commend his Barça team-mates or coaches the other night in Paris when he claimed the coveted European Footballer of the Year award, the Ballon D'Or. There was not too much self-deprecation in the oration, which complimented his own fabulous footwork. "God gives gifts to everyone. Some can write, some can dance. He gave me the skill to play football and I am making the most of it. I have always loved dribbling."

That final phrase was the most pertinent. Judging panels will always reward showmanship, those who can stimulate a crowd to a climax of feverish anticipation by leaving a posse of defenders lurching in their wake like British teenage nightclubbers in the early hours. Though polls, as Neil Kinnock would attest, should be viewed with profound suspicion, you won't find too many dissenting voices regarding the Barcelona talisman who inspired his club to a first Primera Liga title in six years.

Three days after the death of George Best, whose verve Ronaldinho has seemingly inherited, it was an apposite accolade. The Irishman won the same award in 1968, and then, in a metaphor for the life that followed, he lost the trophy.

That uncanny capability to embarrass the opposition was not the only trait they shared. In the Brazilian playmaker's early years at Paris Saint-German, he is said on occasion to have travelled directly from a nightclub to the training ground, a habit reminiscent of the much-loved Belfast Boy buried yesterday.

Significantly, though, that particular poll could also be considered a celebration of the Premiership's appeal. No fewer than nine of the top 20 in the voting were Premiership players, including the second, third and fourth: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Thierry Henry. Seven of the 20 were English.

Ronaldinho won with 225 votes. Intriguingly, Lampard and Gerrard combined earned 290. Was the former a victim of a vote split between two dynamic English midfielders? That contention will be examined two weeks tomorrow when Fifa's World Player of the Year is revealed, this time from a short-list of Lampard, Ronaldinho - last year's victor - and his Barça team-mate Samuel Eto'o, the Cameroon striker.

As a durable representative of arguably the toughest league of them all, Lampard could well secure that prize, although the fear is, as his manager Jose Mourinho has expressed, that the midfielder is destined instead to be the Cinderella who never quite gets that invite to the ball.

Outstanding consistency of performance both for club and country, allied to a League goal-scoring record that before this weekend's games was superior to those of even Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry, is unlikely to match, in too many judges' minds, the footballing eye-candy that the Brazilian represents. "Other players can be man of the match one day, but the next they don't get a touch," declares an exasperated Mourinho, who scathingly suggested that the arbiters for these awards get out more at weekends. "In every game, Lampard is the best."

The former West Ham midfielder, having achieved a Premiership record number of consecutive appearances for an outfield player last Saturday, will on Tuesday confront his England team-mate Gerrard at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea will seek to avenge last season's Champions' League elimination by the eventual champions. Lampard's absence is about as likely as Lieutenant Columbo failing to ensnare his man. Johan Cruyff once opined that "not getting injured is an additional quality of a player". Lampard attributes that facet of his game to "the way I live my life.If I didn't look after myself properly, I'd get muscle injuries at some point. But it's also about being a bit clever, not flying into silly tackles you can't win".

Come decision day, on 19 Dec-ember, Ronaldinho will probably be hailed as principal boy again. Yet the Chelsea player has established a zenith in his career this year. We could just be app-lauding the Genie of the Lamps.

Sir Clive risks slipping on his face in this undignified soap

Smell that? It's the whiff of something, once part of our heritage but now deceased, washed up on the coastline between Southampton and Portsmouth. It's that now nearly extinct creature in football, a hybrid of principles and standards.

Elsewhere, there will have been a sense of schadenfreude at the sequence of acts and declarations, which, were they penned as a TV soap, would contain more improbabilities than Howard's Way. The sad fact is that the innocents in all this, the followers of both clubs, will swallow hard and accept all that transpires in their name, as long as Pompey retain their Premiership status and Saints reclaim theirs, and that their neighbours down the M27 can be perceived as coming off worse in the deal.

Precisely what that deal is remains to be seen. Let's just assume that Harry Redknapp, who has resigned as manager at Southampton after describ-ing his position as untenable, moves east to his "spiritual home" to renew his marriage vows with Portsmouth's Milan Mandaric, possibly with the words of John Masefield (or something similar) under his breath:I must go down to Pompey again, to the lonely sea and the sky, I think I left my heart there, is it worth another try?

But can performance director Sir Clive Woodward move up at Southampton, maybe with Dennis Wise under him as player-coach? Many old pros have already scoffed at what would be an intriguing prospect, though one suspects that in the event of chairman Rupert Lowe installing Woodward as manager, it would be a "hands-off" appointment. In other words, he would provide the framework for coaches to work under him.

Though the "show us yer medals" mentality no longer dominates footballers' thinking - Arsène Wenger and Jose Mourinho among many did not play at the absolute highest level - they do, of course, have a solid football background. A Rugby World Cup winner's memento, 21 England rugby appearances and some life with the Lions doesn't really count, does it?

But just how much experience do you need? Last week, Sky TV's astute pundit Andy Gray, having contended that Sven Goran Eriksson was not good enough for the England job, told his interviewer that there is so much talent available, "I could manage England and win as many games [as Eriksson]. You could".

We did not elicit whether he thought Woodward could - in time. Extraordinarily, over the coming weeks, in the wake of this maelstrom on the South Coast, we may just find out.

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