“Frank Lampard is an exceptional player – a huge asset to Chelsea. You pay attention to players who can get goals from midfield and he’s been averaging 20 a season. You don’t see him getting into stupid tackles or making a habit of becoming involved in silly rows. He remained restrained after Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and even made a point of swapping shirts with Andrés Iniesta.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
It’s a rarity to find a midfielder that can score goals consistently. It’s even more unorthodox when they have been at a club for so long, almost their entire careers, and be one of the longest-serving as well as being their fourth-highest goalscorer of all-time. Things like these are a dime a dozen these days, but Frank Lampard seems to have clung onto the past’s fashions of infamously regurgitated sayings such as “once a blue, always a blue”. Despite having worn the claret and sky blue colours of another particular London club on the opposite end of the capital during the years of his fledgling professional career, Blues fans seem to care little about his past. He has been at Stamford Bridge for so long that, what he has achieved and given back diminishes the ‘stains’. They have evaporated. Frank Lampard is perhaps one of the finest footballers to come from the East for a long time; he is one of football’s more uncommon midfielders.
Frank hails from a prestigiously well-known footballing family, recognised across the nation for their contributions to the game. Romford born-and-bred, his father once played the professional game as a left back for West Ham United during the 1970’s and playing for the club up until 1985 where he moved to Southend United to join a famous former Hammer in Bobby Moore and play out the remainder of his career for the seaside club. The heavy orientation on football led many to believe that Frank Sr.’s son would embark on the same path as his old man. His cousins were the same and very much participated in activities that involved a ball and jumpers for goalposts. At an early age he was introduced to local age-group clubs, rising up the ranks, before having trials at both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, until he eventually made his first mark in signing a youth contract for West Ham.
Upon signing and being involved within the youth and reserves setups respectively he found himself shipped out on loan to Welsh outfit Swansea City for a season. At the time Swansea were in the second tier of English football and had been for the last three seasons, drifting back and forth from the third and fourth divisions. In turn, this also meant that the facilities at the club, like most clubs would be for any youth player going out on loan to a smaller club from a much more established one, were considerably poorer and adaptation to the Football League Second Division would be required also. Nonetheless, those who had worked with Frank at a young age were weary of his capabilities to overcome difficulties and challenges that he is faced with. A determined character. Lampard’s contribution to the Swans’ season would be one goal in nine appearances as three managers came and went. Swansea went on to finish 22nd in the league that season, condemning them to relegation and a return to the third flight.
Fortunately for Lampard it was only temporary. The next season would allow the youngster to then make a sturdy impact in the first team back in east London for his parent club. However it was halted by a broken leg suffered in a game against Aston Villa that ruled him out until the end of the season after just thirteen appearances. A mid-table finish and early exits from the FA Cup and the Carling Cup meant it was a quiet season.
But as time proves to be a healer Lampard was able to return to the action the following season as Harry Redknapp’s tenure of two years in would see the Hammers make consecutive top-half finishes running up to the new millennium. A fifth place finish in 1999 led to qualification for the UEFA Intertoto Cup (which they won the following year) and a veteran Ian Wright, aged 36, ending the season as top goalscorer with nine goals in 23 games before moving onto Nottingham Forest in the now renamed npower Championship for his final days. Lampard at the opposite end of his career clocked up 169 appearances in all competitions under Harry Redknapp’s stewardship, as well as 39 goals in the process – more than any other midfielder within the short time of four years at the club.
Moreover to the fact that time can prove to be a healer, it can also prove to change things within any space of time. Tribulations and delight in beating French contingent FC Metz 3-2 on aggregate to win the cup must have taken its toll as Redknapp and his assistant manager Frank Lampard Sr. were subsequently sacked that season. A poor finish of 15th in the league and only reaching the quarter finals stage of the FA Cup in a 3-2 loss to Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park (funnily enough) was enough to convince the board that it was not good enough. With ‘Arry being himself, his sacking was determined by poor comments to a fanzine that chairman Terry Brown felt unhappy with. The pre-agreed four year extension to his contract was out of the window before he even entered the office.
And as soon as the news broke, Chelsea came calling. A certain Claudio Ranieri was still working on his English had his eyes on one of the most promising English talents in the country. As West Ham would not necessarily be hanging onto their prized player for much longer, it would only serve themselves financially better if they made him hard to get; and that they did. Negotiations between the two London clubs went back and forth as the fans of both sides only tasted the trickling news that would drip from the newspaper tabloids every morning on the back page. Headlines of what was going on behind the closed doors would serve as indicators as to who, where and what would happen. Eventually, the decision was made – Frank Lampard had signed for Chelsea for a fee of £11million, making him the fourth most expensive transfer throughout the 2000-01 season, rounding off the top transfers in Robbie Keane, Robbie Fowler and Rio Ferdinand who all went to Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.
His debut came up against Newcastle United in a 1-1 draw and his first sending off for his new club and professional career against Tottenham Hotspur a month later. Unlike his time at West Ham Lampard appeared in every league game that season for the Blues, scoring eight goals in the process and proving his worth to Ranieri. At the age of 24, Lampard became a Barclays and PFA Fans’ Player of the Month award winner in consecutive months of September and October, whilst picking up a runners-up place for the FWA’s Footballer of the Year award behind Thierry Henry as Chelsea finished second in the league behind the Les Invincibles squad of 2004, Arsenal. In addition to qualifying for the 2004-05 edition of the UEFA Champions League, Ranieri and Co. made the semi finals of the European competition only to lose out to Ligue 1 side AS Monaco 5-3 on aggregate. A scintillating season and stunning performances all round led to belief that Frank would become a world class talent in the future.
But what didn’t last was Ranieri’s reign. Chelsea Football Club underwent a complete overhaul with the change in people running the club and a set of new ‘men upstairs’. Russian billionaire and oil mogul Roman Abramovich acquired the club after reports proclaimed that the Blues were on the brink of administration and fighting for survival. Ranieri was dismissed after heavy investment was given (despite the rumours of his job being under threat prior) which led to then up and coming managerial talent Jose Mourinho stepping in. His triumphs in the UEFA Champions League to eliminate Manchester United over both legs and defeat the club Chelsea would succumb to defeat to in the semi final stage of the competition not long after granted him a £4.2million yearly salary, the highest paid coach in the league at the time. A storm of change seemed to have arisen over Stamford Bridge.
The next three years of Frank Lampard’s career would prove to be a collection of silverware as much as it was a collection of disparity and disappointment. His new Portuguese boss attained and kept hold of his self-induced nickname of ‘The Special One’ from the first day he set foot into the club, accomplishing back-to-back league titles and keeping Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United on hold for a few years. In this time, coupled with the new ownership and the breath of fresh air into the west London club, it would be a great time to be a Chelsea fan, player, coach or even employee. The club were on the rise, new players were arriving, trophies were starting to fill up the cabinet and start-studded squad had been assembled that Lampard would be very much a part of.
The mid 2000’s convinces many that it was the time when Lampard was at his best. Strong performances across the board in both the league and Europe meant strong progression in both competitions to the latter stages, as well as famous Champions League tie-ups with other European heavyweights in FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich. Memorable nights for all that watched and particularly for the neutral. In the 2004-05 campaign he scored one of the most important goals in recent history for Chelsea to put them through to the quarter finals stage where they met the Germans, Bayern Munich. He would go on to score a hat trick in that game as in form Bundesliga side would go on to claim the league and cup double. Though the Blues would be eliminated from the tournament by fellow compatriot side Liverpool, who would go on to play AC Milan in one of the greatest UEFA Champions League finals to date, Chelsea won their first league title in over half a decade and claim Mourinho his first ever Premier League title. Instant success for Abramovich.
The following season saw success once again fall to the feet of Lampard. Top goalscorer in the league and all competitions for the second year running, Mourinho had achieved back-to-back titles in the first two years of his time in England, something that is mostly dreamt of by coaches who would love it more than anything to do something similar. Community Shield winners in pre-season against fellow London rivals Arsenal, reaching the semi finals of the FA Cup in compensation of being defeated in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League, Lampard was considered amongst the best midfielders in not just league, but the world. He finally picked up the FWA Player of the Year award in the process of team silverware and medals whilst finishing runner-up to Barcelona’s silky wizard Ronaldinho in contention for the Ballon D’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year. This tagged along with being voted in the Barclays Premier League Team of the Year, PFA Team of the Year, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, Premier League Best Player, voted into the FIFPro World XI and European Sports Magazines’ Team of the Year. These are just the more notable ones, as there are a few more.
To cap off a trio of years in being arguably one of England’s best midfielders coinciding with Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard in the fantasy tandem that somehow did not show the same sort of performance on the world level, now part of football’s biggest mysteries and phenomena, medals, accolades and silverware followed once more. Chelsea had finished second in the league to Manchester United after the Red Devils finally broke Mourinho’s spell of dominance over the English land. A Champions League semi final that was once again halted by Liverpool 4-1 on aggregate to the Reds meant that it would be next year to try and prove it again. Domestic success was maintained in winning both the FA Cup and Carling Cup, defeating Manchester United and Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and the new Wembley respectively, where a Didier Drogba goal in extra time settled the question of who would become FA Cup champions for that year. Instead of an Englishman Didier Drogba finished as the club’s top goalscorer in both the league and all competitions with 33 goals to make him one of the league’s top marksmen whilst giving Lampard an excuse to relinquish his crown and sceptre – instead he scored 21 goals and provided 15 assists in 63 games for Chelsea in all competitions and collecting even more accolades, mostly in the FA Cup and Carling Cup.
But with all of that success, there comes a time when one must slow down. For a while, Chelsea started to struggle a little bit and so did their goalscoring midfielder. The 2006 World Cup in Germany allowed the Chelsea clubman to play every single minute of the Three Lions’ campaign where he was awarded Man of the Match in the country’s 1-0 win over the Paraguayans, but suffering heart break in losing on penalties to the Portuguese in an intense. Compelling enough, he was one of the three players to miss his penalties alongside Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, where the successors would go on to finish fourth in the tournament behind the hosts Germany in a third-place playoff game. Italy and France came second.
Though despised, injuries began to rear its ugly head. Between 2007 and 2009 he suffered seven injuries, three of which affected his thigh muscles. Prior to the succession of injuries, he had only suffered four, two of which were on his ankles and feet. The time spent out accumulated up to 40 appearances in total throughout the 2007-08 campaign, making it his lowest-ever for the club and the fewest since his days at Upton Park during the mid-to-late 90’s. ‘The Special One’ had seemingly had enough of England and resigned from his job after a dismal 0-0 draw at home to Norwegian Tippeligaen side Rosenborg FK. Though they would progress up until the UEFA Champions League final, only to lose on penalties to recurring trophy rivals Manchester United, Lampard’s lack of availability may have somewhat affected them. Second in the league and runners-up in the Carling Cup whilst being knocked out from the FA Cup in the sixth round to Barnsley 1-0, there would be no silverware this time round.
Fast forward to 2010 and Frank had clocked 51 appearances for Chelsea in the season as Carlo Ancelotti helped lead them to glory after three managers came and went; Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink. Hiddink won Chelsea the FA Cup, but was in a temporary role since he had other commitments in the form of the Russia national team, being their head coach. Abramovich, being Russian himself and embedding some patriotism to his beloved country, understood this, and looked elsewhere in the form of Carlo Ancelotti. 2011, and Ancelotti had been sacked despite league success. Following him would be Andre Villas-Boas in a replica of Mourinho almost a decade back, but a slowing down Frank. 2012, 33 years old, and in knowledge that the time will come for him to hang up his boots soon. Qualification would not come for the European Championships in 2008 where the Croatians would progress instead of England in an embarrassing, humiliating exit from the preliminary rounds of the Swiss-Austrian tournament, whilst the 2010 World Cup would not be much better. A 4-1 defeat to Joachim Loew’s Germany in Bloemfontein.
Frank Lampard cannot be argued as one of the greatest English midfielders to have never won the World Cup or the Champions League. Starved of it greatly. Though this, it could be countered in the same breath that many other Englishmen, regardless of playing in the midfield or anywhere else are deprived of international success too – Paul Gascoigne rings a bell. His accolades as an individual speak volumes of what he has been able to achieve over the decade that he has been at Chelsea Football Club, the managers he has seen and gone, the pain and suffering he has been unfortunate to go through and the revival of his own career following the departure of whom he holds in high regard.
In the midst of his 30’s, this article will only serve to be an account of what he was like prior to retirement. He will retire soon of course. But when he does, will he have won the European Championships or the World Cup with England? Will he have attained the UEFA Champions League? Who knows? He could do so, but it remains to be seen. The amount of managers that have been able to see his talent flourish on and off the pitch will tell you a thousand times over of how deserving he is of at least one of them. Critics are there to say otherwise but overall it cannot really be held down for questioning. In my mind, he has done enough to win it. If he wasn’t, would he have been acknowledged the way he has been with the individual honours and awards he has been given, the chance to captain his club and country, entering record books time and time again for the Blues yet not win two of the most prestigious tournaments in world football? I doubt it.
Number ninety nine, as I think about it now, is a cruel number to him, and probably deserves higher, but this list is in no particular order. Whoever comes in a number one isn’t automatically the best midfielder ever in my eyes, but amongst the collective of those who have contributed an immense amount to the game unlike others. And again, this may be an exaggeration and even more so a cliché, but was a privilege to witness Lampard in his prime, his goals and his performances for his club and country. Few have had the opportunity to witness a number of midfielders that can score goals consistently like him and enter the record books as one of the highest goalscorers for the team they play for, and so, it concludes that he is among one of the greatest midfielders of all-time and comes in at #99 on my top 100 list.
Following a game against Hull City in which Lampard scores a belter, the manager at the time (Felipe Scolari) said:
“It was the best goal I have seen, my vote for World Player of the Year award will go to him, only a player of his intelligence could have done that.”