In a time where England lack genuine role models to be proud of, we should be honoured to have a man and player like Lampard representing England
The past several weeks have been a difficult one off the pitch at Chelsea. With John Terry being found guilty of racial discrimination and Ashley Cole tweeting some harsh words to the directors of the FA, there have been few positives coming out the club. These incidents off the pitch do appear to have a way of overshadowing Chelsea achievements; Chelsea are top of the league and are the current champions of Europe.
However, through all the individual problems there is one player who has represented his club and country with professionalism and class both on and off the pitch. Frank Lampard has been a major part of Chelsea’s success, yet amazingly he is still highly underrated. The Whitehouse Address looks at why Lampard has not and does not get the recognition he deserves from the football world.
Some fatherly support
Frank Lampard began his career at West Ham United, the club where his father Frank Lampard Sr also played. He became an apprentice for the club in 1994 and signed a professional contract in 1995. In the 1997-98 Lampard secured his place in the first team and the following season helped West Ham achieve their highest ever position in the Premier League, 5th place.
Although it seems like a positive start to his career, in fact it was not an easy period for Lampard. He received much abuse and stick from the West Ham fans who believed he was only there because of his father and his uncle, the manager Harry Redknapp. Lampard has admitted he felt the pressure from the fans and that it affected his performance, yet he also admits that it made him stronger and pushed himself to prove their doubts wrong.
Harry Redknapp said that Lampard worked harder than many others in that West Ham side; “he’d stay behind after others had gone and practiced by himself.” And as with many top players, the extra work paid off.
A move to the Bridge
His performances were impressing many and he was targeted by both Aston Villa and Chelsea. At this time both sides were not regarded as the cream of English football but it showed that clubs believed in him enough to pay £11m. Chelsea’s offer was accepted and Lampard moved to Stamford Bridge in 2001.
At that time Chelsea were a side possessing talent such as Desailly, Hasselbaink, Petit and Zola. It was a side relying on ageing talent to take the side forward. Yet in players like Lampard they saw a player for the future of the club.
In Lampard's early days at Chelsea they were not regarded as title challengers. Yet when they managed to achieve a top four finish in the 02-03 season with a win against Liverpool on the last game of the season,. That win and 4th place finish would be very significant for the club. When they beat Liverpool the club did not know that their fortunes were about to seriously change.
The Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was looking to invest in an English football club and although at first he preferred Man Utd, he was convinced that Cheslea were a side capable of becoming a major player on the world stage. Their 4th place finish meant Chelsea had qualified for the Champions League and for Abramovich this was a big factor in his decision.
Although Chelsea missed out on the league in the 03-04 season due to Arsenal’s “Invincible” campaign, the club and their owner had shown that a new player was in town with aspirations and means to win the league. Abramovich did not believe that Ranieri, the man who took Chelsea to 2nd, was the right man to take the club forward. He needed a proven winner, a "special one". It was a decision which would propel the club forward and which would importantly enhance the career of Frank Lampard.
The Special One's touch
Jose Mourinho decided that Chelsea would play a 4-3-3 formation in his first season at the club. It would be a season of much success and it would be a formation which would make Frank Lampard one of the most clinical attacking midfielders in Europe.
Lampard’s midfield play prior to Mourinho was of a more orthodox English midfielder. One that many would call a box to box midfielder, capable of keeping possession and scoring the occasional goal. Mourinho would turn him into one of Europe's best goal scoring midfielders. He would also make him a winner.
Mourinho made Lampard one of the world’s best midfielders. Lampard played with consistency, quality and a real tactical understanding. Mourinho’s influence on him and the club was huge and it took Lampard from a good to a great player.
It is surprising how little recognition Lampard gets outside of Stamford Bridge. Perhaps it is because Chelsea became the team to hate or because his association with Terry and Cole meant his reputation was tarnished too. Yet many will rate Terry and Cole above Lampard, believing that Lampard offers little to his side. It seems a tad ignorant and very naïve of fans to believe Lampard offers little. His goals and assists says it all. In his career at Chelsea he has scored 189 goals and assisted 120 goals.
From the 05-06 season to 09-10 Lampard scored 20 goals or more in each season. For a midfielder this is an impressive feat and one which again he is not given enough credit for. His ability to time his runs and finish are a lesson for many attacking midfielders. Many may argue that many of his goals are from penalties, for me this is still a goal. And often it puts the player under more pressure. We all remember the penalty Lampard took against Liverpool only days after his mother passed away. His strong mind and character have allowed him to overcome the doubters and issues off the pitch and lead his sides to success.
Mourinho called Lampard the “best professional ever” and their relationship is still strong now. The bond that Jose created with Lampard, along with Terry, Drogba and Essien in particular transcended his time at the club. It was fitting when Chelsea won the Champions League last year that these players celebrated together. They had become the core of the side, the spine that Mourinho had sought to build his success on.
A changing role for the modern Frank
Has Lampard been a better midfielder in the past decade than Steven Gerrard? If I had to choose who would be in my midfield I would choose Lampard. He has mastered the role of an attacking midfielder arguably better than Gerrard, yet he has more importantly played for the team much more. His tactical understanding, discipline and willingness to sacrifice himself for the team has often meant his “influence” has not shone, yet it is not surprising that he has been more successful than Gerrard this past decade.
Lampard is arguably the best goal scoring midfielder that England has produced in the past 20 years. Perhaps only Scholes can rival what he has achieved. And now, as Scholes did, Lampard has started to play a deeper role in the side and is showing his effectiveness.
His performances last year when Di Matteo replaced AVB indicated that Lampard’s position was changing. Like many of the greats Lampard has moved from an attacking midfielder to a deeper midfield role. His reading of the game and discipline was a big reason for Chelsea overcoming Barcelona last season and his ability to win the ball and find a forward pass was a reason for Drogba and Ramires’ goals over the two legs. His ability to play with Mikel in a 4-2-3-1 brought European success to Chelsea, as they needed discipline in that role to nullify the threats of Messi, Robben and Ribery.
England's best role model?
For years it seems people have written off Lampard. For both club and country the media and fans have called time on his career believing that he is too old and immobile. Time and time again he has proven the doubters wrong, his performances, goals and influence have not wavered and his professionalism under scrutiny and when “dropped” by Chelsea under Villas-Boas was on the outside top class.
Lampard is a perfect professional and one that England should be proud about. When we talk about role models, is there is any English player better than him? No front page news stories, no outspoken tweets, nothing. He is a consummate professional who carries himself on and off the pitch with respect and honour. And yet, he is widely regarded as an average player who is overrated by the media. It is madness that players like Rooney and Terry are regarded higher as role models than Lampard.
England's Boo Boys. A subject of class?
There is clearly a heavy anti-Lampard bias from the England fans. Especially at Wembley. Imagine being booed by your home fans. It is quite sickening really and another shameful act from England fans.
Lampard has played 93 caps for England and the fans still question his level of commitment and quality. It is quite ludicrous. The Gerrard-Lampard issue has been a problem for the players and the team, yet it appears Lampard is the one who takes the blame rather than Gerrard. Perhaps it is England’s 4-4-2 which should be criticised more. Lampard and Gerrard appear to have a future for England in the deeper roles of a 4-2-3-1 and Hodgson may have found a role for his two midfield generals once and for all.
Why has Lampard not received the credit he deserves then? The media are very fond of him, especially in recent years. It appears it is the fans who have a predisposition to dislike him. It seems it comes down to the fact Lampard is not your typical working class footballer. It is for social reasons why Lampard has not won the hearts of the fans.
Lampard received a middle class upbringing, attending private school. As football is a “working man” sport, Lampard has not been accepted by the “working class” fans. He is too polite, too educated and too smart for the common fan. It is almost like he is offending them by playing a sport not suited to his class.
Is it possible that Lampard’s respectful style of play, where he keeps his emotions in check, where he does not tackle maliciously and where he is known for being a clean and respectful player actually makes Lampard the antithesis of what the English fan wants to see in their footballers?
It is all ludicrous and perhaps if England had more educated, polite and intellectual footballers the game would be better for it. I am sure all of Lampard’s manager have enjoyed working with a player who “understands” the game and does not merely play it like a child.
Mourinho is one of the best judges of talent and it is no surprise that he wanted him at Madrid. Even Ferguson tried to land him last year, seeing in him the intellect and quality which was sorely missed since Scholes absence. Whether it was Roman or AVB who wanted to limit Lampard's role, it shows an ignorance of the influence and quality of a player like Lampard.
At 34 Lampard has shown he is capable of adapting to his age and what his team needs of him. By doing this Lampard is prolonging his career and continuing his influence on Chelsea and hopefully England. As talk increases of a move next summer, I am sure he will not be short of suitors. Lampard has been a great servant to Chelsea and England, yet throughout all his career he has been questioned, doubted and subjected to abuse.
Well, it is those ungrateful fans I feel sorry for. As Lampard wins league titles and European Cups, he is reaffirming his abilities and showing his importance and class as a player. If fans cannot see what he offers then they are missing out on witnessing one of best midfielders in the world this past decade.
In a time where England lacks genuine role models to be proud of, we should be honoured to have a man and player like Frank Lampard representing our country. Unfortunately many do not.