203: A tribute to Frank Lampard

Frank-Lampard-lifted-by-Petr-Cech-Chelsea-201_2942762In some ways, it could prove the fitting finale.

Smashing a goalscoring record that stood for 43 years; doing it as a midfielder; 124 assists supplementing it; taking just one more season (12) than the mighty Bobby Tambling to achieve it; and 48 penalties making up just 24% of the magnificent haul.

Then there is the fact that despite relentless speculation over his future and the record, Frank Lampard never lacked professionalism or selflessness in yet another chaotic Chelsea campaign.

Still, it says a lot that, arguably, Lampard has been the Chelsea figurehead for many fans over the past decade or so – owed both to the fact that age has not inhibited his desire and because of his impeccable off the field behaviour.

After all, it must be noted that José Mourinho came very close to going against the status quo and handing Lampard the Chelsea captaincy after meeting him, John Terry, Joe Cole and Wayne Bridge before England’s friendly against Japan on 1 June, 2004.

However, at first, it was not all so clearcut.

Firstly, Lampard cost Chelsea a then whooping £11 million in the summer of 2001 and seemed to embody the inflation-filled English market that was creeping in for players who had been sparsely-capped, i.e. the likes of Francis Jeffers.

Also, arriving from fierce rivals West Ham – where a tangible majority of their fans believed his development was owed to nepotism, with Frank Lampard Sr and Harry Redknapp, rather than ability – Lampard was even further scrutinised.

This is why the relentless, relieving and, for some, unsavoury badge kissing was such a major part of Lampard’s make-up in the first few years of his Chelsea career as this was the man who was even jeered by some of his own fans when being stretchered off with a broken leg against Aston Villa in 1996.

It was his way of giving the one finger salute to his doubters.

However, as a regista under Claudio Ranieri, it took Lampard time to develop and he was among the Chelsea trope fined two weeks wages for abusing American tourists at a Heathrow Hotel just 24 hours after 9/11.

Still, Lampard, near-immediately, endeared himself to the Chelsea faithful with, ironically, a double-booking in the 2-3 victory against Tottenham on 16 September, 2001.

5BE15DD3BA2430CAF93A6D84842FA8It may be difficult to explain how a double-booking could constitute laying down a gauntlet – particularly with Lampard netting just 15 goals and five assists in 101 games between 2001 and 2003 – but Lampard received a second booking for confronting Chris Perry, who had accused him of diving.

To some, this was naivety; to Chelsea fans, it was the spikiness and commitment that many had doubted that the public-schooled, baby faced 23 year old even had. It was a throwback to Dennis Wise.

2003/2004 was the first stage in Lampard’s development: revelling in the Russian Revolution, amid Champions League football and the arrival of the likes of Glen Johnson, Damien Duff, Joe Cole and Hernán Crespo.

With 15 goals – including a stunning, first-time side foot from 25 yards against Lazio on 22 October, 2003 – and eight assists in 58 games, Lampard went on to feature in the PFA Team of the Year for the first time.

The Englishman also came second behind the mighty Thierry Henry for the Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award and reached double figures in the league for the first time in his career.

This kind of form put him firmly in Sven-Göran Eriksson’s first XI plans for Euro 2004 and Lampard scored three goals at the tournament, as well as finishing in the team of the tournament.

The arrival of Mourinho, though, heralded not only a new era for Chelsea, but, also, for the 26 year old Lampard.

First there was the ‘minor’: the arrival of Rui Faria’s methodology with individual training programs and varied player diets, which were near-unprecedented  – even by Arsène Wenger’s standards – in England at the time.

This would prove crucial to Lampard’s soon to be trademark fitness and stamina.

Then, tactically, Lampard revelled in a winger-centered 4-3-3 – following the effective failure of Mourinho’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond with Alexey Smertin, Tiago, Claude Makélelé and Lampard.

In truth, it could have been a very different start, with Mourinho targeting Deco or Steven Gerrard to share the midfield burden with Lampard, but, ultimately, Lampard proved Chelsea’s prominent midfield threat.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Lampard recorded a then personal best season – 19 goals and 19 assists in a whooping 58 games – and there were fantastic goals throughout.

The 30-yard strike in the 4-1 win over Crystal Palace on 20 March, 2005; netting an instinctive, and now trademark, rebound in the 4-2 victory against Barcelona on 8 March, 2005; and a stunning 180 degree swivel and volley in the 4-2 win over Bayern Munich on 6 April, 2005.

article-1381052-02C93846000004B0-340_634x431Still, if one, even two, goal(s) defined Lampard’s 12-year stay at Chelsea, it was against Bolton on 30 April, 2005.

After all, as well as predicting, in November, that Chelsea would have wrapped up the title at the Reebok, Mourinho spoke in the pre-match team meeting of “we cannot lose”.

However, uncharacteristically – under Mourinho – Chelsea were filled with stage fright and went into the break 0–0 with Bolton at the Reebok.

Riled, Mourinho gave a profound team-talk: declaring that Chelsea had performed so badly that it would be as well for him, Baltemar Brito and Steve Clarke to go out there and play.

Following two slick, solo goals from Lampard on 60 minutes and 76 minutes, a rejuvenated Chelsea claimed a deserved title with a Premier League record of 95 points.

With it being Lampard’s first major trophy of his career and Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years, there was a real sense of two becoming one: Lampard, posing alongside Abramovich and Terry for photographs, was now firmly accepted as Mr Chelsea.

As well as winning the 2005 PFA Footballer of the Year – such was Lampard’s rocketing reputation – he not only made the UEFA World XI, but, also, only lost out to Ronaldinho for the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards.

Everything the Englishman touched turned to gold, with Lampard’s stamina even meriting a record – 164 consecutive Premier League appearances by 28 December, 2005.

That season, following Lampard’s brace in the 4-2 victory over Blackburn on 29 October, 2005, Mourinho even went as far as to say that Lampard was “the best player in the world.”

Undoubted hyperbole, but, in hindsight, it is not as far-fetched as it seemed at the time.

Unsurprisingly, Lampard was key to Chelsea retaining their title in 2005/2006: finishing as their top scorer in the league with 16 goals.

However, already, a comparison was beginning to dog him: Gerrard.

It would crystallise at the 2006 World Cup, with the pair struggling to implement their brilliant individual skillsets amid tactical shackles and a lack of  a telepathic understanding.

LampardMourinoES_468x535That should have sent a message – that Lampard was at his most effective alongside complimentary midfielders like Makélelé and Michael Essien – but the Chelsea hierarchy did not heed the warning.

After all, a dangerous Galáctico-like policy was beginning to grip Chelsea – with Peter Kenyon talking of Chelsea becoming the biggest club in the world and winning at least two Champions League titles by 2014 – and while Mourinho certainly sanctioned the signings of Ashley Cole and Michael Ballack, the Portuguese’s influence was waning.

In truth, it would be Ballack whose individual, all-action game would be neutralised – as opposed to Lampard’s – but the pair never fully gelled.

Regardless, despite the disappointment of losing out on the 2006/2007 league title and Chelsea going out of the Champions League to Liverpool in the semi-finals, Lampard continued progressing: scoring 21 goals and assisting 16 more in an eye-watering 62 games.

It was fitting that in becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscoring midfielder that season, the said goal was a brilliant 25-yard looping strike against Everton in the dramatic 2-3 win on 17 December, 2006.

The standard of finishing got even better, with a stunning, deft lob from a near-impossible angle against Barcelona on 31 October, 2006 perfect evidence that Lampard’s game was not all about power and drive.

Clearly revelling in the adulation of Stamford Bridge, it was perhaps little surprise that Lampard declared that he wanted to stay at Chelsea “forever” after assisting the only goal of Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup final on 20 May, 2007.

Still, it was no coincidence that burnout and niggling injuries were to strike Lampard just as Mourinho left Chelsea and of the 40 appearances Lampard made for Chelsea in 2007/2008, only 24 were in the league – the fewest he had played since he was a 19 year old at West Ham in 1996/1997.

Lampard,  though, was fantastic when available – reflected in a magnificent, three assist display in the 6-0 victory over Manchester City on 27 October, 2007.

However, it was an incredibly difficult season for Lampard – not just for, bizarrely, being booed by England fans against Estonia on 12 October, 2007 – after the death of his mother, Pat, on 27 April.

Ironically, though, this moment was crucial in the crossroads of the relationship between Chelsea and Lampard.

Lampard had been chased by Mourinho and the pair had an informal agreement in the summer of 2008, which would lead to Lampard following Mourinho to Internazionale in the summer of 2009.

However, following Chelsea’s admirable support (leave of absence) of the Englishman, Lampard instead decided to stay in SW6.

pat-lampardThis support – encapsulated in Lampard’s ‘rival’, Ballack, unfurling a ‘Pat Lampard, 8, RIP’ shirt after scoring in the 2-1 victory over Manchester United on 26 April, 2008 – reinvigorated Lampard and he was crucial to Chelsea overcoming their Champions League semi-final hoodoo.

Dispatching an emotional 98th minute penalty in the 3-2 victory over Liverpool on 30 April, 2008, the Englishman was, naturally, overcome with emotion and broke down in tears as he was cradled by his team-mates before giving his now signature ‘it’s for you’ celebration.

The 30 year old’s instinct was not waning and a trademark late burst into the box handed Chelsea a 45th minute equaliser against Manchester United in the Champions League final on 21 May, 2008.

Lampard went on to score his penalty in Chelsea’s eventual shootout defeat, a key retort on the continental stage following his miss in England’s quarter-final penalty-shootout defeat to Portugal on 1 July, 2006.

Following Mourinho’s very tangible flirtation with the Englishman, Abramovich recognised the importance of tying Lampard down – somewhat ironically, in hindsight – and awarded him a five-year, £39.2 million contract at the start of the 2008/2009 season.

Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, and his insistence that Lampard continued to practice “bananas [shots]” in training, Lampard continued to evolve: reflected in an audacious, guided, curling lob against Hull on 29 October, 2008.

Lampard has always spoken warmly of the managers in his career – apart from one that will be addressed later – and it was perhaps no surprise that after scoring a stoppage-time winner against Stoke on 17 January, 2009, he immediately headed for a bearhug with the under-pressure Scolari.

Remarkably, despite yet more managerial upheaval, with Guus Hiddink’s arrival, Lampard had a stellar season: netting 20 goals – including the equaliser in the FA Cup final against Everton, complete with an ode to his father with an aeroplane celebration – and 21 assists in 57 games.

The Englishman’s integrity continued to shine through, too, with Lampard making a point of seeking out, congratulating and swapping shirts with Andrés Iniesta amid the melee following Chelsea’s 1-1 aggregate ‘defeat’ to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final on 6 May, 2009.

It was a similar story off the field and after Lampard was called “scum” by LBC 97.3’s James O’Brien over the housing conditions of ex-wife Elen Rives and their two children, Lampard rung in live on air and declared that he had fought “tooth and nail” to keep his family together.

At 32, it was clear that Lampard still had much to offer and the 2009/2010 campaign under Carlo Ancelotti was to prove just that.

After initially struggling with the limitations of Ancelotti’s diamond and being shackled as a regista, Lampard soon exploded when the Italian reverted to 4-3-3 and bagged an astonishing 27 goals and 20 assists in 51 games.

Soccer - Chelsea Victory Parade - Eel Brook CommonIncredibly, 20 of these goals were in the league, a new record for Lampard, and he was integral to Chelsea claiming their first Double in the history of the club – even re-taking a penalty three times, successfully, in front of the West Ham fans at Upton Park on 21 December, 2009.

It seemed the perfect preparation for the 2010 World Cup, but it was to prove a frustrating tournament for Lampard: going 37 shots without a goal in the four games and, infamously, having his equaliser against Germany in the second-round wrongly disallowed.

Like in 2007/2008, burnout was to be a consequence of a long campaign and Lampard missed the first four months of 2010/2011 with niggling injuries.

As a result, the Englishman played just 32 games but his return did coincide with Chelsea’s renewed title charge in the second-half of 2010/2011.

Still, at 33, many began to wonder what would prove to be the most effective way of managing and preserving the midfielder in his final years and while comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson’s rotation of Ryan Giggs may seem apt, the all-action Lampard is a completely different specimen.

The Englishman takes dropping incredibly personally and this is much owed to the fact he has never known it: bred by Mourinho’s invincibility factor and starting so many consecutive games without any, initial, ill-effect.

André Villas-Boas, though, was going to put that to the test with his new era.

The eight-month period was a real disaster in communications, with Lampard rarely getting a  consecutive run in the team and Villas-Boas never giving him a reason why.

Towards the end of Villas-Boas’ reign, it became all the more bizarre – with the Portuguese handing Lampard instructions to come on against Birmingham on 18 February, 2012 and Napoli on 21 February, but Lampard not even looking Villas-Boas in the eye.

There was a clear lack of mutual respect and given the industry, influence, energy and selflessness (restricted, deep-lying role) of Lampard as a key cog of Roberto Di Matteo’s Champions League winning team, it was clear that Lampard was in the right.

Lampard, too – as captain for much of that incredible ten-man escape in the 2-2 semi-final second-leg against Barcelona on 24 April and the penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich in the final on 19 May- had firmly proven he could still cut it as a classy veteran.

Roy Hodgson recognised this for England, using the midfielder as interim captain while Gerrard was injured.

So, with Lampard still proving his qualities – scoring 17 goals in 48 matches  – the attention turns to Abramovich.

It must be noted that Abramovich admired Villas-Boas immensely and had results been slightly better – i.e. Chelsea not being in danger of losing out on fourth place – Abramovich would have given the Portuguese’s hardline project more time.

article-0-02807C9B0000044D-198_468x328Feeling no sense of obligation towards Chelsea veterans reflects the fact that the Russian is far from a sentimental figure.

It all goes back to to the summer of 2004.

Even with the offer of a £60,000 wage increase, Gianfranco Zola did not go back on his word with Cagliari and snubbed Abramovich.

This, perhaps, stung Abramovich in hindsight of his actions with former players and eventual club assistants, Steve Clarke and Ray Wilkins.

After all, Mourinho threatened to resign when Abramovich planned to replace Clarke with Avram Grant as the Portuguese’s assistant manager in the summer of 2008; and Ray Wilkins was, bizarrely, not handed a new contract in October, 2010.

Instead, the Russian has been hell-bent on establishing his own dynasty with the development of world-class training and youth facilities at Cobham, multi-million pound sponsorship deals with Adidas, Samsung and Gazprom, and the acquisition of Europe’s biggest superstars over the years

Lampard, despite being Abramovich’s only son Arcady’s favourite player, is not immune to the Russian’s stringent one-year wage offer to those over 30.

Chelsea TV’s gaffe of referring to Lampard as a “former player” is a farcry from the hotly-anticipated world exclusive announcement of Lampard becoming the Premier League’s highest-paid footballer in 2008.

It is a fate likely to befall John Terry imminently, too, and while there are rumours that Abramovich is willing to perform a u-turn, Lampard’s camp have, effectively, denied this and, somewhat tellingly, he did not feature in the promotion of Chelsea’s 2013/2014 kit.

In winning every major honour at Chelsea, Lampard has little else to prove but there is a niggling feeling that the Englishman setting off into the sunset of Los Angeles is one or two years too premature for an undoubted key player and club legend.

Perhaps, though, bowing out on top with the record broken will, ironically, mask what has been incredibly harsh treatment from Abramovich.

After all, if one man should be an exception to Abramovich’s dispassion, it is Frank Lampard.

The Author

Ciaran Kelly

Sports writer and author of José Mourinho: The Rise of the Translator, featuring exclusive interviews with key figures not synonymous with the traditional Mourinho narrative and Johan Cruyff: The Total Voetballer, an ebook which peaked in the Top 40 of Amazon's top 100 Sports Books' chart. I have also written for Britain best selling football magazine, FourFourTwo and other British publications. I am a fully qualified reporter with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and a Masters degree in Sports Journalism from St. Mary's University, London.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *