Attackers take the plaudits in football. They embark on exciting runs, display their silky skills and, most importantly, score plenty of goals - Lionel Messi at Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal and Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Rarely does a team’s star player play in their own half of the field.
However, before the brilliant Hazard arrived at Chelsea, the ‘star’ title was shared between three outstanding players, who had enjoyed fantastic spells under the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and, with their 2012 Champions League victory, Roberto Di Matteo - a spine made up of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
‘Super Frankie Lampard’ was viewed as a vital part in Chelsea’s winning formula, earning him the runner-up spot in the 2005 Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award. It’s difficult to separate Terry, Drogba and Lampard, but the former is regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time, due to his often unbelievable goalscoring records.
For a central midfielder, Lampard’s goalscoring rate is incredible. The Blues legend has netted at a rate of approximately one goal per three matches throughout his career, which earned him the club’s all-time top goalscorer record at Chelsea. Likewise, he also ended his Chelsea career in second place in the Premier League all-time assists chart, trailing only former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs.
Lampard had everything in his locker during his peak and he gave so much to the London club that even a spell with title rivals Manchester City during the 2014/15 season wasn’t enough to break the bond between him and the vast majority of the club’s fans.
Yet, while it's difficult to see Lampard as anything other than a Chelsea player, there was life for Lampard before Chelsea and there was life for Lampard after Chelsea too.
Early Days: Football In His blood
Frank Lampard was born in Romford, London, in 1978 to Pat Lampard and Frank Lampard Sr.. It comes as no surprise that Lampard found his way into the world of football, given the amount of talent that his family had provided to the sport already.
Not only did his father, Frank Sr., play over 500 matches for West ham United throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but his aunt, Sandra, is also married to now-famed manager Harry Redknapp, who enjoyed a decent playing career for the likes of West Ham and Bournemouth. Redknapp’s son and Lampard’s cousin, Jamie Redknapp, would enter the world of professional football in 1989, before Lampard followed suit six years later at the age of 17.
However, prior to beginning his football career, Lampard attended Brentwood School in the early 1990s, earning 11 GCSE qualifications before finishing his education in 1994.
Footballers are often ridiculed for their lack of intelligence, yet later tests found Lampard to have an extraordinarily high IQ score, believed to be over the 150 mark, putting him within the top 0.1% of the world’s population. His mental capacity has certainly showed on the pitch over the years, but it does leave you wondering what he may have accomplished had he pursued a different career path.
West Ham: Living In His Uncle’s Shadow
Lampard joined the West Ham youth team in 1994, aged 16. Yet, it would take just a year for the promising youngster to grab a chance to impress in the first-team.
There has always been some suggestion, particularly during his early days, that Lampard was lucky to break into the team so quickly, given that Redknapp was managing the club and his father was working as his assistant. Yet, according to Redknapp, hard work alone earned Lampard his West Ham debut.
“Every time I looked, he’d be out there training,” recalled Redknapp some years later. “He’d be doing doggies, sprints, dribbling the ball in and out of cones. And shooting. Every single day, without fail.”
His debut came on January 31st 1996 in a home victory against Coventry City, following a brief loan spell with Swansea City. Lampard would play just one other game in 1995/96, making an appearance from the bench in a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. However, by the 1996/97 season, Lampard was ready to take his place as a squad regular at West Ham.
Lampard was in the squad for all but one of the club’s games between their opening day defeat to Arsenal on August 17th and a bore draw with Aston Villa on March 15th the following year, taking to the field in 15 of those 29 games. However, that game would see Lampard suffer a leg break that would rule him out of action for the rest of the season.
According to Lampard, as he was carried away on the stretcher, he heard cheering coming from a portion of the West Ham crowd, who didn’t believe that he had earned the right to play for the club.
“It made me feel sick to the stomach. It got to the stage where I thought about jacking in football altogether,” Lampard admitted. “I would rather work nine to five with my mates than take abuse from 30,000 people every other week.”
Yet, the emerging talent persevered, and while his relationship with West Ham was somewhat tarnished, he went on to play another four seasons for the Premier League side.
Lampard became a first-team regular in the 1997/98 season, making 31 appearances for the club in the league. Likewise, he started to influence results too, scoring four and assisting three throughout, including a winning goal against Barnsley on the opening day of the season.
Things went from strength to strength each year, with Lampard scoring five and assisting seven the following season to help West Ham to a 5th place finish in the Premier League, before adding nine goals and seven assists in 1999/2000, as West Ham went on to claim the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
That would be the pinnacle of Lampard’s West Ham career, as the 2000/01 season saw West Ham’s promising rise come crashing down. The club struggled to recover after going six games without a win at the start of the season. Despite climbing back up the table during December, a run of just one win in 12 matches saw them fall to 14th, the position that they would eventually finish in.
The disastrous campaign saw the club part ways with Harry Redknapp in May, before Lampard Sr. soon followed his lead. Lampard, upset by West Ham’s treatment of his father, felt that his relationship with the club was untenable. Within a month he was on his way to Stamford Bridge to finalise an £11 million switch to Chelsea.
“I remember when Joe Cole first came to Chelsea he would turn away in disappointment if West Ham lost. I would smile,” Lampard recalled. “That’s how deeply I felt. I wanted West Ham to lose.”
Chelsea: Proving His Class
Lampard started life at the Bridge in fine form, setting up two goals in his first four Premier League matches. Aside from missing a local derby clash with Fulham, due to a red card received against Tottenham, Lampard featured in all of Chelsea’s other league games that season, finishing with five goals and two assists.
He would continue to adjust over the next few years, as he began to emerge as the brilliant goalscoring midfielder that Chelsea fans would come to know him as. The next two seasons would see him net 16 goals and provide 12 assists, with Lampard featuring in every single game that Chelsea played. However, the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2004 saw him take his game to the next level.
Under Mourinho, Lampard was often used in a three man midfield alongside England team-mate Joe Cole and Frenchman Claude Makélélé. The latter’s defensive solidity meant that Lampard often had the freedom to move around the pitch as he wished, allowing him to produce plenty of those bursting runs into the box that earned him so many goals throughout his career.
Lampard ended his first season under Mourinho with 19 goals and 20 assists in 56 matches, as well as his first Premier League winners’ medal and a League Cup winners’ medal too. Likewise, it was Mourinho’s star midfielder who popped up with two goals against Bolton Wanderers on April 30th to confirm Chelsea’s first title victory in 50 years. His feats that season earned him the 2005 Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award, but the best was still yet to come.
Lampard started the 2005/06 season in remarkable form, scoring two and assisting two in his first four matches. By the end of October Lampard had netted 10 goals in just 11 matches, while also providing five assists. Despite slowing down throughout the second half of the season, he finished up with 20 goals and 13 assists in all competitions and a second Premier League title to his name.
The brilliant midfielder had reached the top of his game, and his stellar performances were duly recognised, as he was named in FIFA’s World XI and was voted the world’s second best player, finishing as runner-up to Brazilian icon Ronaldinho for the Ballon d’Or award.
The following season saw Chelsea claim their first ever FA Cup title and regain the League Cup, with Lampard serving as captain for much of the season following an injury to John Terry. However, footballers are human and even the very best of them have low points in their careers. For Lampard, those moments came in the 2007/08 season.
Changing Of The Guard
Mourinho unexpectedly departed the club soon after the start of the 2007/08 season following a disagreement with wealthy owner Roman Abramovich. Lampard’s form ultimately suffered. While he managed an impressive 10 goals and eight assists in the Premier League, he wasn’t quite at his best.
The loss of his mother, the subsequent breakdown of his relationship with Elen Rivas, a Spanish model and mother to his two children, and the media attention that it generated, threatened to derail his career. Yet, Lampard had shown in the past that he could overcome the difficult moment and he did so again, helping Chelsea to reach the Champions League final for the first time in their history.
Despite his perseverance, Lampard considered leaving the club at the end of the season, with an offer from Mourinho, who was by then managing Inter Milan, on the table. Yet, Lampard opted to sign a new five-year deal with Chelsea which made him the highest paid player in the Premier League.
Despite reaching the age of 30, the point where most players begin to decline, Lampard showed no signs of letting up. He put in another great shift in 2008/09, scoring 20 and assisting 21 in all competitions, before producing his best season in a Chelsea shirt in 2009/10, as Chelsea went on to secure the Premier League title under Carlo Ancelotti.
For a while it had appeared that Lampard’s legs had finally started to give way, as he struggled to produce the goalscoring form that had made him a vital part of the Chelsea squad for so many years. However, a turn of form in February saw him net 12 times in the club’s final 11 matches of the season, including four goals in a 7-1 demolition of Aston Villa. Lampard finished the season with 27 goals and 18 assists in 51 matches.
However, the pinnacle of his career was yet to come. The 2011/12 season looked set to be one of the worst in Chelsea’s recent history, with Andre Villas-Boas, tipped as the ‘New Jose Mourinho’, struggling to produce the results that the club’s fans had become accustomed to.
However, despite eventually finishing sixth in the league under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo following Villas-Boas’ sacking, the club claimed the Champions League for the first time in their history, with Chelsea’s ‘old guard’ of Petr Cech, John Terry, Lampard and Didier Drogba playing a huge part in leading the club to yet more glory.
Winning the Champions League meant that Lampard had won every major honour that he could win with the club. While his age was beginning to show, he continued to produce 10 goals a season for the Blues right up until his last in 2014, before a quick stop at Manchester City (and a goal against his old club) was soon followed by a flight to the United States.