LONDON, October 13 – Frank Lampard admits England's stars have failed to live up to their 'golden generation' tag as Fabio Capello's side conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign against Belarus on Wednesday.
When Lampard, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham broke into the England team within a year or two of each other, the emergence of so many talented young players prompted Adam Crozier, then the English FA’s chief executive, to christen them the golden generation.
But Lampard claims the moniker has proved a weighty millstone around the players’ necks as they tried in vain to fulfil the unwanted expectations thrust on them.
Defeats in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup suggested that England were barely a bronze generation let alone a golden one.
Now that crop of stars are in or approaching their 30s and Chelsea midfielder Lampard knows their last chance to make the label look more flattering will come in next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
"It can be a good thing to have pressure on the team and individuals but when people talk about the golden generation it is a tag that is waiting to fail," Lampard said.
"We just went out and played but it did keep getting mentioned. It was unfortunate really.
"Adam Crozier said it, people picked up on it and we haven’t followed through with that.
"When you talk about the golden generation, talk about 1966 when England won the World Cup.
"It was said much too early. The golden generation should only be said once you have won something.
"When we win something then we can talk about golden generations."
After qualifying for the finals on the back of eight successive victories in Group Six under Capello’s astute leadership, England look better equipped to mark their mark on the World Cup than in previous attempts.
Even Saturday’s chaotic 1-0 defeat against Ukraine, which ended England’s unblemished qualifying record, came with a silver lining.
Down to 10 men after just 15 minutes when goalkeeper Robert Green was sent off England could have been forgiven for waving the white flag in a fixture that meant nothing to them.
But no team with an inspirational figure such as Wayne Rooney is ever likely to surrender without a fight. Driven on by a typcially tenacious display from the Manchester United forward, England could have earned a point.
Lampard admits no other player in the squad can match Rooney’s influence on or off the pitch, but England will have to do without him against Belarus as he recovers from a calf injury sustained last weekend.
"Obviously you don’t want to lose Wayne Rooney but if you are ever going to then a game like this when it’s not important in terms of points is better," Lampard said.
"No-one can do what he does. He is a very effervescent character. That enthusiasm he has comes out for people around him. It rubs off very well. He is a one off.
"He’s been like that since he first came into the squad. When you get to the ground an hour and a quarter before the game he has got his kit on and he is flicking balls around and chatting to everyone in the dressing room like there is not a big game coming up.
"The only other one I remember like that was Gazza when I was first around the England squad.
"If people are nervous or quiet having Wayne come over and make a joke or have a chat can be very relaxing.
"Not only is he a bubbly character but he backs it up with the way he plays.
"Some players are born to play for England when they are 17 or 18. Wayne and Michael Owen were like that.
"But the minute we take our foot of the pedal, whether Wayne is in the team or not, we will come unstuck."
Capello must choose between Gabriel Agbonlahor and Carlton Cole as Rooney’s replacement at Wembley, while David James is likely to replace the suspended Green.