Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Platitudinous World of Fat Frank

Fingers crossed. That seems to be about as deep as Frank Lampard's tactical philosophy goes. Following the kind of no-frills performance that gives competency a bad name (there is, after all no shame in being competent, as long as that's all one aspires to be), Pobre Frank, he of the post-World Cup wounded pride, decided that the best way to get the fans back on side, and really show his commitment to the England cause, was to was to roll out a few of the old shibboleths.

It was like wandering into a fully-stocked candy shop of footballing clich├ęs. "I'll have a pound from the 'we've got to keep our heads up' jar please, oh, and a handful of 'hopefully things will start to go our way', thanks..." This self-serving junk is the stock in trade of many a sportsman, but after the umpteenth pitiful performance from a man supposedly locked in a till-the-death tussle with Steven Gerrard - the only man currently worth the lion on the shirt - for one of two central midfield slots, it really begins to stick in the craw.

On Saturday Lampard again appeared to go about his business as if merely hovering around the final third of the pitch was indication enough of his ability. He may have picked up the runner-up gong to Ronaldinho in the 2005 World Player of the Year award by pinging in twenty yard pot-shots against whichever worthies happened to be caught in Chelsea's opulent maw week-in-week-out, but as a good few years in the England team have demonstrated, that does not an international player necessarily make. Not a clear-the-decks midfield dynamo, a la Roy Keane or latterly Owen Hargreaves, nor a puppeteer, like Cristiano Ronaldo or Zidane, Lampard seems to get by on a fairly quotidian range of delights. He is not known for his Beckhamesque passing - sure he can knock neat one-twos, but so can just about every player in the Premiership - while his aerial threat is certainly not manifest for someone who stands 6'3'' (barring, perhaps, his decent nod in the opening fixture of Euro 2004 against France). Okay, Lamps has been known to lamp the odd scorcher, but his strike rate in this field of endeavour is not always flattering, viz. World Cup 2006 (over twenty shots: no goals).

Against the doughty but limited Israelis, England's best chance, created by Gerrard, was frittered away by Lampy Jnr, his feet stumbling to get the ball under control as goalkeeper Dudu Aoute smothered with ease. When opportunity knocked again in the second half, Lampard's header wide could better be described as a deflection. The debate about whether Lampard and Gerrard can play together in the centre seems to have become one of how to fit Gerrard in without hurting Fat Frank's feelings, and even plonked out on the wing Stevie G outshone his erstwhile sidekick. Surely it wouldn't have taken much of a leap in strategic thought to have removed Lampard, brought Gerrard inside, and put Aaron Lennon back out on the right where he belongs. It needn't have mattered who was introduced on the left; even the largely unambitious Stuart Downing's presence would have restored the balance. The compromise that has seen both McClaren and Sven fudge the question must surely be jettisoned.

But then, it's understandable that the England coach is in a quandary when even the venerable Al Hansen professes a desire to keep having a bash at solving the problem (is that the sound of fingers crossing again). If Hansen needs a list of alternatives, perhaps Joey Barton can help draw one up for him...

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