LONDON (AFP) - It is a mystery that has baffled a succession of England managers: Why can't the country's two greatest midfielders play together?
Chelsea star Frank Lampard and Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard are regarded as two of the best players in the world, thanks to their heroics in the Champions League and Premier League.
But when they pull on an England shirt the pair often become a pale shadow of the dominant figures who inspire their clubs.
The pair have racked up 132 caps between them over nine years and yet an embarrassed Lampard looked stumped on Tuesday when asked to name a competitive match in which they played well together.
In fact, in perhaps his most honest assessment yet of a conundrum that has dogged not only Fabio Capello's predecessor Steve McClaren but also Sven Goran Eriksson before that, the Chelsea man admits there is something seriously wrong.
"If we are both honest - and Stevie is a very honest man in the way he speaks about things - we both haven't played as well for England as we have for our clubs, particularly over the last two seasons. And that's the case whether we've played together or separately," he said at England's hotel ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Belarus.
"I think if we had done we probably would have qualified for the Euros. It's not being big-headed saying that but from what we've done for our clubs and the way we play I'd like to think we could have qualified.
"We are both big enough and quite humble but as individuals we would both say that. It's something to work on and for the manager to decide the best way forward."
The issue is particularly relevant this week because England are still bathing in the glory of a 4-1 victory in Croatia when Lampard was outstanding but Gerrard was missing through injury.
Now, however, the Liverpool man is fit and back in the squad for Saturday's game against Kazakhstan at Wembley - and Capello must decide whether to stick with a winning team or achieve what his predecessors failed to do and find a formation in which both Gerrard and Lampard can flourish.
"We have to try and make it work if we're asked to play together," Lampard said. "Maybe we're in a better environment for it to improve now. We train hard with England now.
"I'm not saying we didn't train hard before but there is a lot more emphasis on the tactical work under Fabio Capello.
"Maybe it is a matter of time, although let's hope it's not too long because we are not getting any younger!
"I'd like to think it can work. I don't think we are stupid players and I don't think we are egotistical. People might think that from the outside sometimes but it's certainly not the truth.
"We both care passionately about playing for our country and we both want to play well for our country.
"It's something that really should work and it's up to the players, ultimately. The manager will make the decision as to who plays and how we play but then it's up to the players to take responsibility after that."
It seems unthinkable that Lampard could be dropped from Capello's England side this weekend after playing so well against Croatia in Zagreb and he hopes to finally win over the fans who have occasionally booed him in the past at Wembley.
"The thing about the fans-player relationship is that fans react to how the players are playing," he said. "With the Croatia game we showed a work ethic and a team ethic and a lot of people responded to it.
"We don't want to get carried away with ourselves but when fans see that and hopefully see it at Wembley on Saturday you get a different response out there.
"I'm big enough to say that for the last couple of years I haven't done as well as I should have done for England and after Croatia this is a start for me to kick on again and show the sort of form I feel I can."
If Lampard is true to his word then Capello may be halfway to solving a riddle that has baffled football's brightest brains for many years.
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