The win over West Ham on the weekend not only saw Chelsea continue their perfect start to the 2010/11 Premier League season, but it also saw a rare occurrence which only happens a handful of times a season at most. After a recent hernia operation, Frank Lampard missed a match.
With his near impeccable attendance on a match day, one imagines that the Chelsea teamsheets arrive in the dressing room before a game with the name ‘Lampard’ already printed upon them, with ten other spaces for Carlo Ancelotti to fill in around the midfielder with his biro.
Lampard’s absence from the Chelsea line-up didn’t stop the Blues from netting three against their hapless West Ham counterparts, and with the midfielder a doubt for Tuesday’s Champions League opener against Slovakian side Zilina, Ancelotti could be facing a second consecutive game without the twenty plus goal a season man.
But the spell on the sidelines not only saw Lampard miss out for the Blues. The recent international break also saw another Italian attempting to fill a hole left by the stricken player. Fabio Capello opted to change England’s system, allowing Steven Gerrard to progress further up the pitch with more freedom to run at the terrified Bulgaria and Switzerland defenders. It worked. England ran out 4-0 and 3-1 winners in those games.
With John Terry also missing from the England set-up after an injury of his own – which also saw the Chelsea captain subbed off during the West Ham game – the fans of the national side, along with some radio talk show hosts and newspaper journalists, noticed something: England can win games without Terry and Lampard. Extrapolating from this point, most of that specific throng came to the same conclusion: Terry and Lampard should be cast aside from the international scene immediately.
Terry has of course been a long-term target for those who feel they need to uphold the honour and integrity of the national side. Along with his Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole, they are often vilified and targeted by the boo boys and poison pen-holders if they dare to make even the slightest of mistakes on the pitch, purely because of their dubious reputations off of it. Forgetting the fact that Cole is the best player in his position in the world, and Terry – despite a certain agricultural style off the ball – can display a cultured side to go with his defensive prowess, week-in, week-out for the Blues, instead it is the headlines on the front pages which go someway towards the judgements dished out whenever they turn up to play in the England white.
But to suggest that Lampard is no longer good enough to play for his country is a joke. The man is an incredible footballer, a superb athlete and a thoughtful player. His goal record for the Blues is proof enough, but for those who watch him on a weekly basis can pay testament to his abilities. His every run is calculated, like a grand chess master plotting several moves in advance. His passing is exemplary, while in turn his teamwork is excellent, and he should be held up as an example of a player at the top of his game.
Instead, he is tossed aside by fickle England supporters, who instead look to favour the nation’s sweetheart Steven Gerrard, with that famous drive and determination, and the ability to drag his team out of the mire and towards certain victory. That never say die attitude which has helped Gerrard lead Liverpool to five points from their first four games, and a lofty 13th place in the Premier League, sandwiched in between Bolton (12th) and newly promoted Newcastle (14th).
It is churlish to say that Gerrard hasn’t performed well in England’s last two games, but while England have gone from World Cup flops to world-beaters on the back of two wins against substandard opposition, the alarm bells marked ‘perspective’ should be ringing right now. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see England win every game in the qualification process, before again bowing out early in the tournament proper, perhaps in the group stages after a couple of draws and a defeat.
But until then, with England fans on the crest of a wave, they need a scapegoat for the dismal performances in the summer, and so Lampard gets it in the neck. The disposable culture we live in leads them to believe that Lampard has no place in their side anymore. Get rid of him, they think. And what should we, the Chelsea fans, think? We should agree.
A Lampard-less England may struggle in time, but a Lampard who doesn’t have to travel to the far-reaching corners of Europe to play in superfluous qualification games for England can only be beneficial to Chelsea. Michael Essien has reportedly asked not to be considered for selection for his native Ghana in the near-future, preferring instead to focus his attentions on the club game. Essien, in the first game after an international break, then pops up to score twice for Chelsea against West Ham.
So Lampard should stick two fingers up to England, but, the man he is, he won’t. He’ll no doubt redouble his efforts and again attempt to win over England fans who will frankly never take to him. Instead, they’ll worship their captain Gerrard, his Scouse sidekick Wayne Rooney and the sideways passing Gareth Barry, all the while overlooking the commitment and endeavour provided by Lampard. But England’s loss is Chelsea’s gain, so please Frank, step aside and let them see what they will be missing.