Before you read any further on this article, this is not about Frank Lampard as a manager. I think this article already discusses that in an eloquent and passionate manner. I’d consider myself indequate to try and echo these thoughts in a more articulate way.
My bone of contention is actually as Frank Lampard as a player. Pervading opinion on social media suggests that Lampard career is overrated. I loathe to question the right of fans to have an opinion. At the same time, I find these conclusions baffling.
I tend to find these views fall into three categories. Firstly, people label him as a penalty merchant. Secondly, people use the loathsome phrase ‘stat-padding’. Thirdly, people suggest he enjoys a priority status because of his nationality. I hope this article will dispel all three of these notions and also share my personal view on Frank Lampard.
‘Frank Lampard only took Penalties’
Beginning with the first viewpoint: ‘Frank Lampard was a penalty merchant.’ I can only attribute this to the modern football fan and prevalent view on social media that penalties are somehow less valuable. A penalty is the same value as a bicycle kick as far as the numbers are concerned. I’d personally argue a penalty in some ways is harder. You expect the taker to score. From 12 yards, the keeper’s given little chance. This is why the xG is so high in these situations. It also explains why goalkeepers receive such acclaim for stopping them and why players are so criticised for missing them.
Frank Lampard took 50 penalties during his Premier League career. He scored 43 of them. Lampard’s ability to take penalties with unerring consistency, in the toughest moments – physically, and emotionally – marks his character out, if nothing else. Before the naysayers cry ‘penalty merchant’, if we take away those 43 goals, he still has 104 Premier League goals. 5 of those are direct free kicks. So even then, he nearly scored 100 times from open play.
So much for a ‘penalty merchant.’
Frank Lampard: The Stat-Pad
I’m sorry, but I’m going to be blunt. The concept of stat-padding is a stupid one from a fan perspective. World class players are criticised for everything. It’s especially jarring when they are criticised for creating and scoring goals.
If you took Frank Lampard’s career numbers at Chelsea: 211 goals in 648, you get a strike-rate of roughly 1 in 3. A striker would be happy with those career numbers. When you factor in that Lampard was a midfielder – and sometimes not even the most attacking of the midfielders – they become ridiculous. This was a player that consistently could guarantee you at least 10 goals a season from midfield in the League. How many Premier League players can do that now? If this constitutes ‘stat-padding’, then I’d be quite happy for Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi et al. to start ‘stat-padding’ with more frequency.
An Incomparable Style
The English icon was goalscorer par excellence. Lampard’s mastery was arriving late inside the box in the role nowadays attributed as ‘second striker’. The uncanny knack of popping up in the right place to finish is a rare one. It’s hard to think of any player in the Premier League now who displays this skill in abundance. If the ball broke loose or was laid back towards his path, it was likely arrowing in the bottom corner, sweeping into the far corner or screaming into the top corner. This added a new threat to Chelsea’s attack too. At least one defender or midfielder – often more – would have the unenviable task of shackling Lampard’s ability to burst from midfield. By doing this, it meant that other players could wreak havoc.
In the early years, it was the directness of Duff and Robben. In the later 2000s, it was deadly striking duo of Anelka and Drogba. Towards the end of his Chelsea career, it was the creative genius of Mata and Lampard. Even when he was not ‘stat-padding’, Lampard’s threat on the pitch could not be ignored.
Of course, it would be doing a disservice to the player if I didn’t also acknowledge his incredible ability to shoot from range. As soon as Frank Lampard picked up the ball anywhere within 30 yards from goal, there was definite danger for the opposition. On his left foot and his right foot, there was always the possibility of a goal. Lampard scored so many iconic long-range goals, you could have a Goal of the Season competition every year with his efforts alone.
If being a world-class goalscorer on a consistent basis makes you a ‘stat-padder’, then the description is valid when applied to Frank Lampard. When you use it in any other way, it just becomes a baseless meaningless insult.
All of this, of course, fails to acknowledge his brilliant passing ability and off-the-ball movement. This article looks at Lampard the goalscorer, but I might follow up looking at the creative side.
The Nationality Argument
It’s depressing to even have to write this point. If you ask most Chelsea fans for a list of club legends, it is true the name Frank Lampard will appear near the top (or top of the list) very often. He’s the club’s record goal-scorer. He has captained us to our greatest triumph – Champions League glory. Lampard’s won multiple Premier League titles and helped us pick up every domestic cup.
If you wanted to build a statue to join the great Peter Osgood outside Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard would be a worthy candidate in every sense for these reasons. But he’d be the first to admit he was not alone in these triumphs. Petr Cech. John Tery. Didier Drogba. Alongside Lampard, these names typify the success of Chelsea in the 21st Century. The tapestries of historic moments, legendary matches, iconic teams spill out from this quartet. It hopefully doesn’t take a genius to realise that 50% of this group is not English.
Does Frank Lampard enjoy a special relationship with the club’s fans? It’s pointless to deny it. Is he alone in this privilege? Evidently not. Chelsea fans still sing the name of our iconic Number 8. But we also sing about the Captain, Leader Legend. We eulogise that ‘if Big Pete’s happy, I’m happy’. Numerous banners and chants around Stamford Bridge reference our Ivorian King. These players enjoy this status because they have delivered immeasurable happiness to fans.
They have created history at this club. Arguably, they are the final piece of the puzzle that saw us go from rising force to global footballing superpower. At no point does nationality, race, creed or anything like that come into it.
Frank Lampard: The Club Legacy
I’m not going to pretend I am a neutral observer. To me, Frank Lampard is my Chelsea Football Club. I remember screaming for joy as a young kid when Lampard’s brace in 2005 won our first top-flight title since 1955.
I remember feeling the elation when Lampard fired home from Hernan Crespo’s pass past Jaaskelainen to defend it.
The guts that Frank Lampard showed in 2008 to step up in extra time against Liverpool in the Champions League cemented his legacy. Haunted by personal tragedy, visibly affected by the recent events, he pushed all of that aside for Chelsea’s ambitions. Once the ball hit the back of the net, the tears didn’t stop flowing. The raw emotion of the moment was poignant and honest.
Lampard was the brave face in 2008 after John Terry slipped. The man who faced the cameras and thanked the fans. He turned down the glamorous allure of Inter Milan and a reunion with The Special One. Once again, the season ended in silverware as Lampard smashed home the winner at Wembley in the FA Cup Final.
His individual 2009-2010 season will go down as the best for any Premier League midfielder. He was unstoppable, a force of nature from the midfield driving the team forwards. He settled games by himself. Lampard created innumerable chances for teammates to bury. It was the closest Stamford Bridge came to champagne football for a long time. Arguably the closest ever in Premier League era.
European Champion and Record Breaker
Chelsea’s dramatic run to Champions League glory is intertwined with Lampard’s own Chelsea story. Once again, he answered the call from 12 yards in the dramatic comeback against Napoli. Against Barcelona, his reverse pass released Ramires to lob Victor Valdes with impudence. In the Final in Munich, he stood in the face of danger once again.
Was Lampard thinking of 2008 when he stepped up against Manuel Neuer in the Allianz Arena? Perhaps. He didn’t show it as he thumped the penalty home. There was anguish, raw emotion, the stress of captaincy exploding from that ball as it scorched past the giant German. His post-match interview will be iconic forever. This was a man who had finally achieved the Holy Grail.
There was one final tale to tell. As his contract ticked down, the goal record got closer and closer. 200 up vs West Ham. The numbers got more real as he passed icons of yesteryear. Then one fateful afternoon at Villa Park, Frank Lampard once again steered Chelsea from the jaws of defeat to a crucial victory, and in doing so, he cemented himself as the club’s ALL-TIME TOP GOALSCORER.
The magnitude and measure of that achievement should not be overstated. This was not a player who had grown up through the club. Lampard was 23 when he switched East London for West London. By modern standards, that is considered ‘ancient’ for a player to make a legacy for themselves.
The stats speak for themselves.
648 games. 593 starts. 211 goals. 13 seasons. 13 trophies.
Frank Lampard: The Final Word
People will read this article and they will scoff. They will criticise. They will demean. The outpouring of emotion that emanated from Lampard leaving Chelsea – as a player and as a manager – tells you the real story about how this man is viewed.
It is no coincidence ‘Lampard role’ is so coveted but so rare in the modern game. There is a reason why a generation of kids have grown up screaming his name when they score on the playground, or in the park. There is a reason why the number is considered iconic at Chelsea: an honour to be worn by a select few individuals. Frank Lampard will forever be synonymous with the glory years of Chelsea and the golden years of the Premier League.
His name will continue to be sung at Stamford Bridge when fans return. In the distant future, fans will sit down with their children, grand-children, great-grand-children and tell them about one of the greatest – if not the greatest Chelsea player of all time.
His name is Frank Lampard.
Written and edited by Rob Pratley (@rjpjournalism)
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