When Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard lined up alongside one another for England for the 51st time, I spent some time putting together a quick article on why my instant reaction was, “Again?! FFS!” It wasn’t my finest work, nor was it fully thought through.
It was more a blurted out opinion based on the Gerrard/Lampard axis’ position in a broader premise that I’ve covered at length: England really need to get their house in order, or forever be limited to the silverware on the tables in their expensively assembled houses of mediocrity. This article won’t be much different.
In light of an article that appeared on Football365, I’d like to frame my argument slightly differently. The primary point I was trying to make – and clearly I failed – was that it doesn’t matter if Gerrard and Lampard suddenly became Xavi and Andres Iniesta. When Lampard turns 36 at FIFA World Cup 2014, we might well wish they hadn’t. Secondary to that was my view that the pairing has had ample time to gel, and hasn’t come remotely close to doing so.
I must have missed all the pots collected by the “Golden Generation” and piled up at the Football Association’s Wembley headquarters, bursting the locks on the trophy cabinet because there simply isn’t the room to house all of England’s trinkets of success.
The status quo has failed. I don’t care what numbers are thrown at me about their partnership, nor do I care that they’re both exceptional players – and they are – because there’s only one number that really matters here, and that’s the number of times England have really impressed in a major tournament since the turn of the century: none.
The Football365 article, to which I shan’t link because there’s no way they’d reciprocate and I have only read because it was pointed out to me by a colleague, is entitled “If not Gerrard-Lampard…then who?” and attacks the “hand-wringing” over Roy Hodgson’s midfield on the grounds that there are no real alternatives. I’d normally ignore such a sentiment because ultimately this is a game of opinions; I certainly don’t expect everybody to agree with mine.
But on this occasion it appears that my article has been singled out by the author because I failed to suggest an alternative.
I can only presume the author came across my article after it was reposted – with my permission – elsewhere. It’s a fair point, of course. If I really wanted to make my case strongly then I possibly should have given my alternatives, but regular readers will know that within the context of TSC I tend to leave player-by-player decisions to those in charge (who, unlike me, get paid for those decisions) and spend my time sniping at the system instead, because I believe it is the system that is broken.
With that in mind, there is something of an overlap between what I meant to point out with my article, and what I think the Football365 author intended with much of hers: there aren’t any obvious alternatives, at least none that are ready or adequate. While I think some elements of her article are a little disingenuous, it seems that we are both aware of the same problem.
Where we apparently differ is that I’d prefer something to be done about it now – or in 2010, in fact, which is when I first wrote that it’d be beneficial for England to freshen things up in the middle of the park – rather than bury my head in the sand and then discover that Lampard’s energy has deserted him in May 2014. What then?
Taking the needless straw man names out of the author’s list of alternatives, we’re left with some of the more serious prospects. Is Jack Rodwell going to be good enough to lead England? Is Jack Wilshere when he’s fit? Is Jordan Henderson? There are others, and there will be others who emerge on the blindside, but it is very much my opinion that we will never know if Hodgson continues to put his faith in the older heads.
To take it a step further, what happens when UEFA Euro 2016 kicks off? Would we rather Rodwell, Wilshere, Henderson et al have had four years of experience, including a World Cup, or two years and no tournament? England’s tournament-by-tournament existence has to end if there is to be any hope of winning a trophy.
Are Gerrard and Lampard the best midfielders available to England at this moment? Despite not being the best partnership we’ve ever had at our disposal, the truth is that they clearly are. Unfortunately, at this stage in (a) their careers and (b) England’s requirements, there’s not really an excuse for them being treated as such any longer. Nor is there an excuse for taking a childish play on words too seriously, but that’s another argument altogether.
Finally, on to the admittedly valid challenge at hand: “name the alternatives”.
In the system set out by Hodgson, I’d happily have kept Gerrard in place – experience does have a place, in my opinion. Tom Cleverley certainly would have retained his spot, and, while not really a prospect for the future, I’d have started Michael Carrick from the options immediately available. Beyond that, I’d have liked to see someone younger in Lampard’s place. Let’s face it, we should be able to bring in some new blood and still beat the likes of Moldova. Until we try them, we don’t know if they are alternatives at all.
Winning 5-0 against Moldova is all well and good, but I’d argue England would be better off winning that game 2-0 with Jordan Henderson or another younger player getting 90 minutes under his belt. Still, if you want to take a 5-0 instead and land in Brazil with a solid qualifying record but the same midfield that has failed us before, on your head be it.