Final curtain beckons for Frank Lampard's England career
It was only on Tuesday lunchtime that Frank Lampard sat down at the England team hotel to discuss the possibility of a fourth international tournament and finally putting behind him the disappointments that have followed his career with the national team since his first big impact at Euro 2004.
There were the usual questions, as relevant now as they were at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals, such as whether he could play with Steven Gerrard in a central midfield pairing; whether he could adapt his game to be a more defensive midfielder in the twilight of his career; and whether, as he approaches his 34th birthday next month, he could add a medal with England to one of the most impressive collections in modern English football.
Today, Lampard goes for a scan on a thigh injury picked up in training yesterday morning that is all but certain to rule him out of Euro 2012. He may never get a chance to lay to rest the disappointments of the last two World Cup finals or win the 10 caps that would take him to a century for England. For a player who has won everything in the club game, it is a sad way to end a remarkable season.
At Stamford Bridge, he is adored as the man who epitomises the good times under Roman Abramovich more than any other player. Not least because he was picked up from West Ham 11 years ago for what now seems like a bargain £11m – although at the time it was a considerable investment – and became one of the most influential players of his generation.
England? Well, that aspect of his career is a bit different. There, the love affair has waned at times since his impact at Euro 2004 and the relationship with the more fickle elements of the support has not always been as strong. When he was left out of the team by Fabio Capello for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria last September, despite the absence of Gerrard and Jack Wilshere, it looked like a pivotal moment.
At that time, with the expectation that Wilshere would be fit for Euro 2012 and Scott Parker flavour of the month, it was difficult to envisage Lampard making the squad ahead of Gerrard and Gareth Barry. Yet before his injury yesterday, the Chelsea man arrived to join up with his fourth England tournament squad and was given his traditional No 8 shirt as if nothing has ever changed ahead of Saturday's friendly with Belgium.
Asked on Tuesday whether Euro 2012 was realistically his last chance of tournament success with England, Lampard acknowledged that was the case. "Possibly. One day it might be taken out of my hands, so it's not an easy one to answer. I will take this as potentially one of my last chances. This year in the Champions League I had that same mindset. I didn't think it was my last year, but you know that it won't go on forever and it makes you appreciate it even more. "
On reaching 100 caps he was circumspect. "It is and it isn't [important]. Even though it's only 10 games it can be quite a long time in international football. While I feel I'm contributing I'll keep playing."
It is likely that a fit Lampard would have gone to Euro 2012 as a back-up to Gerrard and Parker. Losing him now is not regarded as the blow it might have been in 2006 or 2010, although given how inexperienced the midfield is in his absence, this injury could come back to haunt England. Lampard's longevity has discouraged Michael Carrick from pursuing an international career but how Roy Hodgson could do with the Manchester United man now.
Lampard has always proved capable of coming back from set-backs, no more so than this season just gone when he returned to the Chelsea team to such effect after Andre Villas-Boas's dismissal in March.
"There's nothing wrong with having an underdog status if you have the belief in the squad that you can do something – and with Chelsea we had that," he said. "When you look around the players and see togetherness, I think you can enjoy being called underdogs. It takes a certain amount of pressure off."
He said he did not want to "stumble over the line" with England. If the news is bad this morning then the decision could well be made for him.
Lampard is not likely to be in contention for the World Cup squad in 2014 and by that logic he will not play in the qualifiers. Over 90 caps and 23 goals he has given England great service, even if he looks set to be denied the happy ending that Chelsea enjoyed this season.