RIO DE JANEIRO: Time has resolved one of the most challenging frustrations for England managers over the last 10 years: how to capitalise on the talents of the two most dynamic midfielders of their generation.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard roamed the pitches of the Premier and Champions Leagues for Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, setting an example with their workrate and saving and winning matches with a stream of dramatic goals.
But Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello all failed to bring the aggregate of their talents to work together in an England shirt. Indeed, such was the similarity of styles that their joint value was diminished.
Gerrard and Lampard both sought the same attacking spaces and confused each other and their team-mates. Worse, in marauding forward they left vast spaces behind them for opponents for exploit.
At one time or another Gerrard played wide right or Lampard played wide left. It was a waste of a player. England – like Italy famously in the 1970 World Cup with Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera – could not find a magic formula to suit both players alongside, of course, the equally outstanding David Beckham
The one difference was age. Lampard is two years older than Gerrard and the first time the Liverpool man edged ahead of his Chelsea counterpart was on being named as captain at the World Cup in South Africa.
Only under Roy Hodgson, since 2012, has it been possible to accommodate both players. This owes less to Hodgson’s managerial talent and more to the fact that the accumulation of years and injuries has reduced the all-pitch characteristics of both men.
This past season Lampard started only just over half of Chelsea’s league matches while Gerrard found himself learning a more cautious and conservative controlling role deep in the Liverpool midfield.
Still, Gerrard is in Brazil as captain, leader and certain starter despite a minor scare after a weekend muscle strain. Lampard is on the bench as a luxury substitute but – perhaps more important – to bring to bear his wealth of big-match experience in the dressing room.
England open their World Cup on Saturday against Italy in the humidity of Manaus when experience and patience will be crucial. Gerrard will start alongside Liverpool team-mate Jordan Henderson in midfield and Lampard will be on the bench.
But Hodgson will be happy to have the experience and leadersbip qualities of both men at his disposal. Success in a World Cup is not only about what happens out on the pitch.