There are three words that, when used in the same sentence, send shivers down the collective spine of England fans. Or, rather, lead them to weep at the television as TV pundits again attempt to answer the conundrum that used to be seen as England’s biggest problem – ‘this is why England fail to win football matches’.
Those three words are “Lampard”, “Gerrard” and “England”.
But, fear not, I am not going to try and fit Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard into the same starting XI, ultimately coming to the conclusion that they do, as part of a team, need to work together and share defensive and attacking responsibilities.
When England manager Fabio Capello spoke of his ‘worry’ regarding Steven Gerrard’s latest injury setback, I have to admit, I was rather surprised. To be perfectly honest, I don’t see why England would need either player in their first eleven, and it could be argued that they would not be needed in the squad altogether.
If England are to play one up front with Wayne Rooney in behind, playing in those pockets of space between midfield and attack that he adores, then an attacking midfielder really isn’t required. Jack Wilshere can play in centre-mid, roaming in the Cesc Fabregas-esque role which he will be doing for Arsenal this season. He’ll excel in this role – he can sit in the middle and spray that ball about from left to right and push forward when needed, where he will support the two wingers and the two forwards, whoever they may be.
England also have options for the two winger positions: Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Marc Albrighton, to name just a few. Up front, Andy Carroll could be set to have a fine season, while Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck would all give something different to an England front-line.
It is debateable whether any of these players are world-beaters – at present, they’re probably not – but at least England have options in many positions.
Obviously, with fast, attacking wingers and full-backs who like to bomb on and overlap down the wing (Ashley Cole/Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson/Kyle Walker would possibly be the favourites here), cover would then be required and a defensive-minded midfielder – not necessarily a rather-restricted defensive midfielder – would then be needed, and this could come in the shape of many players. West Ham’s Scott Parker would most likely be the favourite even though he may be playing in the Championship next season given Michael Carrick’s consistent inconsistency and general lack of confidence. Joey Barton and Gareth Barry would be other options.
There would also be the alternative of blooding some youth into the side – Tom Cleverley has been impressive for Manchester United this pre-season, while Chelsea’s Josh McEachran recently received praise from new boss Andre Villas-Boas. Both players look set to see more first team action this season and it’s these sorts of players – the diminutive, ‘Barca-esque’ players – that England need to develop to challenge on the world stage.
Of course, there would be other options: Jack Rodwell has been impressive for Everton and there have been reports of interest from some top clubs and, while he had a relatively disappointing season last term, it’s this season that the 20-year-old really needs to push on and begin to fulfil his potential.
Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson could also play in the middle, with Jack on the left side and Henderson on the right of centre, although both are predominately attack-minded players which will, inevitably, prompt a similar debate to the Gerrard-Lampard one. And nobody wants that.
Even if England were to play two up top – for instance Bent playing with Carroll, or Rooney and Welbeck – the wingers and central midfielders would still play the same roles.
4-3-3 would be another option with Young and Downing, for example, either side of Carroll. A midfield three chosen from Wilshere, McEachran, Cleverley, Parker and Rodwell would work well.
There are a variety of formations that England could utilise – none of them require Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard.
So, whether we look towards the distant future or just the next few games, Gerrard and Lampard are not needed. While I would never advocate a player retiring from international duty, the idea of Gerrard quitting England has been going around for quite some time, while Frank Lampard hinted recently that retirement on the whole was certainly on his mind. Both players will probably want to prolong their club careers and, with both struggling for fitness over the last few seasons, it might be sooner rather than later that they give up on England altogether.
England might not win trophies with the players noted above, but they’ll be just fine without Gerrard and Lampard.