There is a video clip, set during Harry Redknapp’s tenure as West Ham manager, when, at a fans’ forum, a WHU fan probes him on why he always plays Frank Lampard. The implication is that there is nepotism at play, and Redknapp is fielding his nephew out of familial loyalty rather than legitimate #footballingreasons. Harry, though, is having none of it. In no uncertain terms, he tells the fan that Frank is on the team for no reason other than merit, extolling the midfielder’s many virtues, before ending with the no mean claim that in years’ time, “he will go right to the very top”.
And, on this, Redknapp was exactly right. Tomorrow, in Kiev, England face Ukraine for a Group H clincher (1 point currently separates the two countries), and the fresh-faced, carrying a bit of extra weight, cringing youth of the aforementioned video, now 35, is expected to earn his 100th cap for country. For a man whose career has been written off more times than I’ve had hot dinners, Frank Lampard has done extremely well to get this far.
There was a criticism that had existed, that Lampard didn’t replicate his club form for country, and perhaps this was pertinent in previous tournaments. But which of England’s superstars actually do? If you look back to the shambles that was England in the 2006 World Cup, the one player who performed better than anyone else was the then-Bayern Munich player Owen Hargreaves. England’s inability to gel and for individual players to exhibit their club brilliance on the international platform is not a new thing, and for Lampard to be faulted for a problem which lies at the root of the FA’s set-up is nothing short of imbecilic.
In any case, Lampard is going through a renaissance for country. Captaining England two years ago in the moral-boosting 1-0 friendly victory over Spain, he also scored the match-winner of the game. He also got the game-winner in February, when England put their 23-year losing streak against Brazil to an end. He has put in sterling performances throughout England’s qualification for Rio, and, whilst conceding that 2014 will be his final realistic chance to represent his country, Lampard fully expects to go out on a high. For his start tomorrow, it is widely viewed that due to Danny Welbeck’s suspension, Lampard will be needed more than ever to provide penetration.
Written off after the 2006 World Cup, then the 2010 one. Then written off under Villas-Boas, and then again under Benitez. It is almost as if Frank Lampard naysayers enjoy getting egg on their face. Whether as a starter or from the bench, he will give 100% and play for the shirt, so well that, whilst Villas-Boas might have hoped to phase Lampard out in accordance with his vision for Chelsea, he actually ended up relying on him. A case in point was when the Englishman came on as a substitute against Man City to score the winning penalty for Chelsea.
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Not that Frank feels the need to prove anything to anybody. He demonstrated moral grit and heart upon our wildest dreams in the 2007-2008 season, when Chelsea faced Liverpool in the Champions League, just days after Pat Lampard, Frank’s mother, passed away.
Ballack won the penalty, and I’m sure many would have felt safer, nay preferred for Ballack to take the penalty. Had Lampard missed, it would have hurt so much more than any other penalty miss. This was more than just the penalty that paved our way to the Champions League final. For me, him scoring that penalty was one of those life-affirming moments in football. Life triumphed over death.
To even play for Chelsea following such a huge tragedy of losing his mother showed what a great professional he is. To score a penalty, under such pressured conditions, when there were other penalty takers on the pitch who could have shouldered the burden showed what a great player he is. His heartfelt tribute to his mother showed what a great man he is.
Years later, he guided Chelsea to Champions League and Europa League glory as captain in both finals. In the infamous semi-final CL game against Barcelona where Terry lost his head, Lampard crucially kept his, even though Fabregas was doing everything he could to try and get him sent off. He kept cool to run the clock down, to set up the denouement in Munich that has now gone down in Chelsea folklore. Because he possesses this composure (in his lengthy career Lampard has received just 4 reds, and two of them, against Liverpool and West Ham, were later rescinded), I favour him as a club captain to JT, a controversial opinion perhaps, and one that has dominated many a pub discussion.
Although not half as reviled as teammates and fellow eastenders John Terry and Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard still receives his fair share of vitriol. Some people don’t like that he’s a bit posh, that he went to private school. A more popular source of mirth seems to be to call him “Fat Frank”. Admittedly, when he was a West Ham player, Lampard was a bit heavier, not being blessed with the metabolism from God. But he trained extremely hard; often staying long past the rest of his teammates had gone home. He even drew some mockery for being so keen. But the result is that he now carries less excess flab than a lamppost, so to hear overweight football fans with beer bellies still jeer “Fat Frank” at him is enough to shatter my irony-meter.
No matter. Lampard may not court controversy as flagrantly as Terry or Cole, but, like them, he has been playing the game long enough not to give a f*** what the haters say, using sh***y jibes as a fuel to incentivize him to play better. And that is the resolve of Chelsea’s Hunchback, Leader, Legend that has seen him earn so much silverware, so many accolades, and, at last become a very-well deserved England centurion. Frank Lampard is the embodiment of how hard work and self-belief will get you far. In the end, it matters not how many people will you to fail, just as long as you wish to succeed.