Frank Lampard is the greatest goalscoring midfielder in Premier League history. Famed for his late surges into the box and a guarantee of 20 goals a season, ‘Super Frank’ was the linchpin around which a Roman Abramovich backed Chelsea went from stylish also-rans to a European powerhouse.
Lampard won 11 major trophies including 3 Premier Leagues and 1 Champions League with Chelsea. He was one of the last genuine box-to-box midfielders in an age of increasing numbers of ‘Makelele’s’ and number 10s. His international performances never lived up to his success at club level, but that criticism could be aimed at any number of England’s ‘Golden Generation’.
The Early Years: West Ham
His early career at West Ham was turbulent. He broke into the team when he was just 17 and by his own admission “didn’t set the world alight.” The popular view among West Ham fans was that he was in the team because of his dad, who was assistant to Harry Redknapp at the time. He was often booed and there were even cheers when he broke his leg against Aston Villa.
In a now infamous West Ham fans forum, a baby-faced Lampard looked shellshocked as fans repeatedly described him as “not being good enough.” They suggested that Scott Canham, who had been let go by the club was a better prospect. It was at that point that Redknapp said of Lampard:
“I’m telling you now, he [Lampard] will go right to the very top. Right to the very top. ’Cos he’s got everything that is needed to be a top midfield player. His attitude is first-class. He’s got strength, he can play, he can pass and he can score goals. I couldn’t be more strong in how I feel about him.”
He wasn’t wrong. Whilst Canham has spent the last 15 years working for car repair company ‘Dent Devils’, Frank Lampard has won every club honour possible and has accumulated over 100 England caps.
The Right Move at the Right Time: Chelsea’s Main Man
Lampard signed for Chelsea for £11m from West Ham in 2001, a lot of money at the time. Often in his father’s shadow at West Ham, it was in the blue of Chelsea that Lampard Jr showed what he was truly capable of. In his first two seasons at the club, Lampard asserted himself as a permanent fixture in the side. Scoring goals from midfield was becoming a habit.
Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003 and a new raft of proven winners were brought into the squad. However, it was the spine of the team in the form of Lampard and captain John Terry that the incumbent José Mourinho would decide to build his title winning team around. Mourinho would later go on to describe Lampard as the “the best Premier League player for a decade.”
Lampard won back-to-back Premier League titles under Mourinho as well as being recognised individually not just in the Premier League but across the world. He was named the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year in 2005 as well as finishing as runner-up to Ronaldinho in both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
In the 2007-08 season Lampard showed his dedication to Chelsea as he confidently scored an extra-time penalty in the Champions League semi-final to knock out Liverpool just days after the loss of his mother. In a compelling show of emotion, Lampard sunk to his knees and pointed to the sky with tears in his eyes. Chelsea were a posts width away from winning the final against Manchester United, but the elusive Champions League trophy still evaded Lampard and his teammates.
It was Lampard’s consistency that makes him a true Premier League legend. He reached double figures for goals in 11 consecutive seasons, which says a great deal about not only his ability as a footballer but also his will to look after himself physically and avoid injury.
The late Ray Wilkins was assistant manager at Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti and said:
“When you take the work ethic the guy’s got, it’s no fluke. The guy works so hard day in day out. He’s world class without a doubt.”
It was in this period under Ancelotti that Lampard’s goalscoring antics reached ‘frank-ly’ ridiculous new heights. He scored 22 Premier League goals in the 2009-10 season, 27 in all competitions, to fire Chelsea to the double.
The One that Nearly Got Away: The Champions League
Having reached 4 Champions League semi-finals and 1 final in 7 seasons, Chelsea finally won the trophy in 2012. By Lampard’s own admission, he thought the time in which he might have won Europe’s showcase competition had passed. Chelsea were not the dominant force they had been in the Premier League, eventually finishing seventh. Andre Villas Boas had decided to freeze out the old guard of Terry, Lampard and Drogba early in the season, only for Roberto Di Matteo to bring back the tried and tested trio when he took charge for the second half of the campaign.