“It was never me against him”: Lampard and Gerrard renew rivalry from the dugout

It’s been eight years since Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard called time on their international careers and the debate still rages over who was better for England. “London taxis especially, they love this conversation,” says Lampard. “Where are you going with this? And these taxi drivers have big mouths. It won’t stay with us!”

The Everton manager prefers discretion on this particular issue, but there is no denying that the competitive rivalry that existed between the two exceptional midfielders in their playing days will re-emerge at Villa Park on Saturday. Gerrard and Lampard meet for the first time as managers and both are looking for their first points of the new Premier League season. Where it used to be Liverpool v Chelsea, or competing for position with England, it is Aston Villa v Everton that now fuels the competition and with greater responsibility.

But Lampard insists: “The media portrayal wasn’t quite accurate, it was never really me against him. For a lot of our professional careers we didn’t see each other much. For England, yes, then you go back to your clubs and be competitive, and there’s just an undercurrent. That’s all it was, and we both respected that. As we got a little more mature, we got a little closer, like you, and then we both work in the media and we spent some time together. We worked together at the World Cup and Champions League finals [in 2018] and I was about to go to Derby and he was also going to Rangers, and we talked about it, but not that much.

“Each job is different, each job is consuming and therefore we didn’t get into it too much. I talked to him when I came in here because I wanted to know his opinion on Nathan Patterson [the former Rangers defender]. I respect Stevie’s word on what he thinks about football and in general. I wish him all the best because I know the demands of the job and I hope he does well.”

Lampard won 106 caps for England, scoring 29 goals, with Gerrard collecting 114 caps and scoring 21 goals for his country. Apart from the ongoing taxi drivers debate over who was better, their time on the international stage was dominated by the question of whether the two could recreate their club form playing together. The Everton manager believes Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello should have made the question superfluous by playing a three-man midfield with Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick in between.

“I always thought that, even when I was playing for England, because especially in tournament football we were outnumbered in midfield,” admits Lampard. “You always have to take responsibility for yourself first, so I don’t speak for Stevie, but when you’re outnumbered at the highest level, like the World Cup, it’s hard to control games. I think that was just part of the puzzle to be fair.”

The 44-year-old would be measured against the performances of Gerrard and other midfielders despite his successes with Chelsea. “It wasn’t just me and Stevie, I was competitive as a player,” he explains. “Whenever other midfielders scored goals, my eyes shot up, it was a bit like that. When I was growing up, my dad called it professional jealousy. Not bad if honed in the right direction. But that’s in your younger years. As you get older you only respect a player who is at Steven’s level. He was just an incredibly high level player. And we were different. I don’t think there is any point in this conversation [who was better]especially now that we’ve packed our bags.

“I think me, Steven and Scholesy were the other one. We were all different and I think we can all be very happy with the careers we’ve had.”

It might have been a different career, certainly for Gerrard and to some extent Lampard, if Jose Mourinho had managed to lure the then Liverpool captain to Stamford Bridge in 2005. The two would have played in a three-man midfield with Claude Makelele as a presenter. “Wouldn’t it have been nice?” Lampard reflects with a smile. “I think it worked out well for me and Stevie in our own way. We ended up being the same club during our careers and I think that was the right story. It could have been good in another world.”

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