by Rob Shepherd
The day before he made his England debut against Belgium at The Stadium of Light in 1999, I asked then manager Kevin Keegan if he felt Frank Lampard had a great international future ahead of him and could even go on to captain his country.
Keegan retorted with a “steady on” smile but agreed young Lampard had the qualities and potential to have a chance of going to the top of the world stage.
Some of the other football writers in the room were less diplomatic, a few even chuckling with a certain disdain at such a suggestion.
Even before he had kicked a ball for his country a bizarre campaign started by West Ham fans – that Lampard was not really good enough for the top level – was a in motion and had begun to seep into the psyche of parts of the media.
And the footage we showed in a recent article of a West Ham fan giving an 18 year old Lampard pelters now looks plain ridiculous (see the clip on Bobby TV on our home page).
Fourteen years after that, ahead of a pivotal World Cup qualifier against Ukraine all the media fawned over Lampard at a press conference as he spoke about the prospect of picking up his 100th cap for England in Kiev.
And while he has only captained his country on the odd occasion no less an authority than former France star Zinedene Zidane suggested that 35 year old Lampard – rather than midfield side kick and skipper Steven Gerrard – is the key figure in the England team.
Zidane said: “The one that is standing out for England and is really a leader is Lampard.”
In that respect one wonders what might have been for England had Lampard been seen as an integral part of the side in the early days of the Sven Goran Eriksson era.
Lampard was often on the periphery of what for too long effectively became ‘Team Beckham’.
Indeed I remember sitting with Lampard in a hotel in Kensington doing an interview after the 2002 World Cup finals reflecting on what had gone on. Lampard had been omitted from the squad but Beckham travelled even though he had still not recovered from a serious injury and would eventually play despite not being fully fit.
When other midfielders started to pick up knocks England’s chances of success in Japan were undermined by a lack of midfield options in the crunch game against Brazil.
It seemed farcical that Lampard after completing an impressive first season with Chelsea after moving on from West Ham had not been in the squad. He was frustrated but vowed eventually to force his way into England’s midfield even if there didn’t seem much room with Beckham, Gerrard and Paul Scholes around.
But Lampard has energy and goal power; he has scored 29 for England putting him one short of Alan Shearer, Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse as joint seventh in the all time list.
And his appearance in the Ukraine means he becomes the eighth member to join England elite Centurion Club.
The first was England’s giant of a captain from the Fifties, the Wolves centre-half Billy Wright who played 105 times.
Then there was Bobby Charlton (106) and Bobby Moore (108) who played in the games when there were no ‘cheap’ caps to be won from the bench and when there were less international games to be played.
Peter Shilton retains the record with 125 and had he not had to battle with Ray Clemence for the no. 1 spot for so long it could easily have been 200.
It was a long gap until Beckham made it over the 100 line and he sits third with 115 caps.
And it’s been a bit like London buses since with Ashley Cole, Gerrard (each 104 not out ) and now Lampard reaching the milestone.
Had it not taken so long to establish himself as a regular after that debut (in which he was overshadowed by cousin Jamie Redknapp) then Lampard might well have over taken Shilton by now.
And he admits there was a time under Steve McClaren when again he was not always included, that he questioned whether he had a future with England.
But a deep determination and dedication to succeed has seen him drive on. It’s an attitude instilled by his father Frank, the former West Ham player, who won just two England caps.
“Reaching this landmark is obviously a very proud day for me and my family” said Lampard.
And young Frank thanks his dad for “bullying him” to the top.
“My dad was a hero” said Lampard. “Mind you, when I was a kid, not as much as Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee (West Ham’s star strikers of the Eighties). They put the ball in the back of the net. My dad was a left-back!”
“But he was my hero, day in, day out. He put that work ethic in me. He always made me very aware of my weaknesses.
“He’d praise the good things but he was always on about my pace, about trying to get in the box and score goals, and have the energy to be able to do that.
“There was no easy way to get there – he let me know that. It was extra runs, extra hours practising shooting and finishing, that became ingrained in me. He probably bullied me into it a bit in my younger years. I didn’t always like it. But I can’t thank him enough for it now.
“If you are going to try to get to the top and get 100 caps, it was something I needed to do. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without that.”
Peter Shilton 125
David Beckham 115
Bobby Moore 108
Bobby Charlton 106
Billy Wright 105
Ashley Cole 104
Steve Gerrard 104