Frank Lampard flounders on England return to prove his time as a first-choice midfielder for Fabio Capello is over

The 33-year-old stalwart no longer has the gears required to excell at international level but can still play a vital role for the national side as a squad man at Euro 2012
By Wayne Veysey at Wembley

Frank Lampard's international exile proved to be a brief one.

After the gravediggers were out in force last Friday to gleefully bury his England career, here he was back at Wembley to defy the obituary writers once again.

Out with the old in Sofia, back in with the old against Wales, even if Lampard is only actually three years older than the man he replaced in England's midfield, Scott Parker.

A few conclusions could be drawn from the 33-year-old's return, which lasted 72 minutes before he was substituted and replaced by Parker, who had been wrapped in cotton wool by Capello to preserve him for the tricky final Euro 2012 qualifier in Montenegro, for which he could have been suspended with a yellow card in Wednesday's match.

There was no hint of dynamism from Lampard or the thrust of old. He seems to have aged and slowed perceptibly over the last six months. The years have finally caught up with him, unsurprisingly perhaps for a player whose bionic days of appearance and goal records are surely now behind him.

Sven-Goran Eriksson once offered a rare perceptive gem when he observed how Lampard tends to start the season slowly before working his way through the gears.

Yet there is more to his demotion in the England ranks, and the diminishing of his influence, than a body gradually becoming reaccustomed to the demands of a new campaign.

Save for one second-half move, when Lampard arrived late on the edge of the penalty box in the manner that has made him such a key player at club and international level for the best part of a decade and sent the ball narrowly over the bar with a thumping right foot shot, he was fairly anonymous. Indeed, he often struggled to escape the clutches of Jack Collison and Andrew Crofts, the visitors' two midfield sentries.

There was plenty of ammunition for the Lampard baiters but he had also given a warm reception by the home fans when the teams were announced, although the cheers did not match those afforded to, say, England's talisman, Wayne Rooney.

Lampard wore the No. 4 shirt, the jersey traditionally given to the holding midfielder, but for the first half hour he was the most advanced of England's midfield three, playing just ahead of James Milner and Gareth Barry.

The Chelsea man occasionally swapped positions with Milner, dropping deeper in search of possession to try and help England gain a foothold in the match against the much improved visitors.

He tried hard to get involved but, except for one 50-yard cross field pass, Lampard was almost entirely on the periphery in the opening half. The former West Ham man has always been a manager's player rather than a genuine crowd pleaser, save for the incredible goal scoring record.

But it would not have been lost on Fabio Capello that Lampard's display paled in comparison to that of the similarly offensive Jack Wilshere in England's last home game against Switzerland in June. That is without even mentioning Steven Gerrard, who will surely return to the starting XI when he is fully fit.

Lampard can point to the fact he had 86 caps on Friday morning and ends the international break with 88. However, old father time is finally catching up with one of English football's great soldiers.

That is not to say he cannot be an important squad player up to and including the Euro 2012 finals, and perhaps beyond. Players who can score crucial goals from midfield, thump in penalties and have battle-hardened experience to die for are worth their weight in gold.

But the evidence is stacking up that Lampard no longer deserves to be a regular England starter. He is entering the winter phase of his international career.