Before Fabio Capello took over as England coach, Frank Lampard was so confident of a spot in the national team that he often didn't bother to check if he'd been selected. Under the Italian disciplinarian, that's no longer the case. The 30-year-old Lampard can't be so complacent anymore.
Striker Michael Owen's continued exclusion shows that past reputation counts for nothing with club form everything for Capello, who replaced Steve McClaren after his much-maligned 18-month reign. "There were times when I have done that if I'm honest and waited for the text (message) rather than looking for the moment the squad comes out," Lampard said on Monday at England's team hotel north of London. "It's not an overconfidence. It's just the way it was, but now there's an element of being kept on our toes, which can only be a good thing."
Lampard said it is no coincidence that under Capello's command, England has won its first four World Cup qualifying matches after failing to reach last year's European Championship under McClaren. England hosts Ukraine on Wednesday at Wembley Stadium and is currently top of its group for the 2010 tournament in South Africa. "We needed a very strong person," Lampard said. "Some of the off-the-field stuff he brought in, the discipline around the place in terms of dress, hotel, dinners. Even though we have these terrible tops (shirts) on, at least we're all wearing the same. "In those terms, but also in football terms. We needed a very strong leader who had his own mind. With Capello, you can see that."
Capello's arrival was a culture shock but one that fostered greater team unity, the Chelsea midfielder said.
"At times, it was easy to see we played as individuals too much in the past," said Lampard, who scored his first goal since November 2007 in Saturday's 4-0 friendly rout of Slovakia. "We have very, very good individuals, but the team didn't perform because we weren't playing as a group, as such. To play as a team and a group, you need to have humility and to be selfless.
"You need to work for your mate next to you, to play out of position, if that's what is required. That kind of thing. That's something he needed to bring _ and he's brought." Lampard believes many Premier League managers could learn a lot from the former Real Madrid coach, especially how to deal with young players earning large wages that allow them to enjoy the life of a big star earlier than ever before.
"It's something I feel very strongly about," he said. "There are good young pros and lads out there but, nowadays, it's made too easy for them, much too easy. It's hard for me because we're all lucky to be where we are, leading nice lifestyles, but that lifestyle is coming earlier and earlier.
"The lads are forgetting the hard work that needs to be done to earn that lifestyle. Sometimes when you mix with international players and have a taste of the trappings at 16, 17 or 18, you can forget that you're not there yet. You think you're there already. I have had a word with some of them (at Chelsea)." Nowadays, young players' apprenticeships are spent honing football skills or learning in classrooms, rather than menial tasks like cleaning the boots of their seniors.
"Me and John (Terry) always complain that they should be cleaning boots because it was a great learning curve for us, being told off by Julian Dicks and having the boots thrown back at you," Lampard said. "That was an important element. Once that's gone, an edge can be taken off."