The all-conquering hero with his number one fans. - via images.dailystar-uk.co.uk
Frank Lampard recently confirmed that he'd be leaving the club where he made his name, and Chelsea Football Club will be the poorer for it. No, he hasn't been at his world-class best the past few seasons, and no, Chelsea will not struggle to replace him should they use their substantial funds wisely, but an era at Chelsea Football Club will have officially come to an end. It may as well be called the Lampard Era.
What is this era of which you speak, Wheaties? Gather round children, and ye shall hear, of Lampard at Chelsea, all thirteen years.
Can't believe they made them take these awkward pictures back then. Someone get this man a shirt to hold or paper to sign! - via talksport.com
Frank Lampard arrived in SW6 from the club of his father (and, just previously, dear Uncle 'arry). He was no significant star at the time, just a bright-eyed 23-year-old with bags of potential and a serious footballing pedigree, who had been a solid contributor in West Ham's meteoric rise to 5th place. Gus Poyet was sold on to Tottenham, and Frank was brought in for what was at the time, a jaw-dropping/eyebrow-raising £11 million. Remember, dear children, this was a different age, when the EPL record was £22.5 million for the sale of Nicolas Anelka from Arsenal to Real Madrid, and the BBC website looked like this.
Chelsea, managed by Claudio Ranieri (who replaced the sacked Gianluca Vialli) and captained by the inimitable Marcel Desailly, had powered their way into a top six finish, earning a spot in the first round of the UEFA Cup. The club was not in an enviable position financially, but the striking prowess of Jimmy "Monster in a Semi-Human Body" Hasselbaink and the tantalizing trickery of Italian magician Gianfranco Zola had brought back a taste of the swagger the club had enjoyed in the sixties.
You know what happened next, FA Cup Final, Champion's League qualification, the sale to Roman Abramovich, Lampard's second-place finish for the FWA's Footballer of the Year award (pipped to the honor by Thierry Henry, of course), and the arrival of the Special One. The rest, well... you know the rest.
"But this sounds like the Roman Abramovich era!" I hear you say.
Shut up your face and let me finish! Roman's wealth indeed created a new Chelsea, but as with any era, other momentous occasions overlap. The Renaissance didn't just up and end the minute the Reformation began, no matter how a history book might divide things up. As Zola's era ended, Roman's began, but the spirit of Chelsea was carried on in hearts, not rubles.
Is it really cold or are these guys just happy to see us? - via e1.365dm.com
The figures of John Terry and Frank Lampard became the face of Chelsea Football Club. Even those who turned their nose up at Mourinho's shenanigans or Abramovich's money bags couldn't deny the talent and determination that his money hadn't bought in the two Englishmen. The two young men were also two of the best players England had produced in quite some time, forming part of what was believed to be a golden generation. The air was rank with ambiguity and hypocrisy, a club so hated and a country so loved, but the characters in these two dramas were the same.
A winner getting his first taste. - via c2.staticflickr.com
Lampard's place in Chelsea history was cemented by one moment in April 2005. The night before the Bolton match, captain and vice-captain had sat together, dreaming of the glory the next day might bring. They talked about what it might mean, the feeling of bringing Chelsea its first title in 50 years, and only its second ever. The league cup was already in the bag, but to be Premier League champions was something else. After a lackluster first half, the team came out with a fire in its stomach. Chelsea historian Rick Glanville described Lampard's clarity of focus and pure determination as "irresistible" (Chelsea FC: The Official Biography). It's no surprise that it was he who scored the title decider, then. And the follow-up security goal. You know what? You've got five minutes and fifty seconds you can spare. Here (seriously, you can just watch the first 5:50):
As we know, the perfect season was subsequently ruined by a ridiculous refereeing error that cost Chelsea a chance to head to the Champions League final. That still stings a bit. But Lampard and co. shrugged it off and moved onward, becoming only the third team in Premier League history to win back-to-back titles. Lampard won FWA's Footballer of the Year, and finished second to Ronaldinho in the 2005 Ballon d'Or. After a relatively disappointing start to the 06/07 season and rumours of a falling out with Roman Abramovich, Mourinho was exiled from England in calamitous fashion, and Chelsea began a seemingly never-ending carousel ride through managers. Despite the chaos and uncertainty that appeared to always characterize the administration, Lampard kept his head down, and Chelsea kept winning.
Now I wasn't there through all of this, but perhaps you can understand like no one else can that I feel as though I was. At times, I remember the episodes I described above as though I was, as though my memories come from the locus of space and time that held these events. But I wasn't. Perhaps this is some bizarre vanity, perhaps it is insanity; I want to believe it is one of the ways the human spirit defies the boundary that is time. But maybe that is too hopeful, too prideful. Maybe greatness echoes through eternity, and those who cannot answer its call hear it as their own. Whatever the reason for this phenomenon, I feel it and perhaps you do as well. So let us take a journey through these echoes, real or imagined as they may be for you. A narrative is only as powerful as the minds of its readers, and we can keep this story alive together.
Moments of the Making of a Legend
The power of this moment was palpable. - via i.smimg.net
30 April 2008. Despite the passing of his mother just days before, Frank stepped up to play for Chelsea in a crucial second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool. And when the time came in the 98th minute to take the match-deciding penalty, he did not shirk his duty. I can't imagine the strength it would take to face that pressure with that pain and sadness weighing you down, dragging you under like a pair of boulders tied around your ankles. But he did it.
Shortly thereafter, Chelsea fans' hearts broke along with Frank's all over again as a tragic slip meant the big-eared trophy eluded us once more. But our hero was not found weeping in a corner or curled up in the fetal position in the locker room as he had every right to be. There he was beside the most downtrodden of all souls, consoling the man who'd failed his club in the roughest way imaginable.
But as you know, it wasn't all dark times for Lampard and his mates. The man with the highest IQ ever recorded in the Premier League kept at his craft with dedication and professionalism that simply hasn't been matched. The 2009/2010 season brought another domestic double under another new manager. FA Cups abounded. And then, when another young Portuguese manager hot off a successful season came bounding along with supreme confidence, things began to look different at Chelsea. The old guard was looking like an old guard, and Lampard was being kept out of the starting XI. Just when people began to think Frank might not have anything left in the tank, AVB got sent to the desert from which the path was only Tottenham and Zenit and failure. Roberto di Matteo's ascension was mirrored by Frank's, and a return to the squad meant a return to form.
This is what a winner looks like. - via scontent-b-ord.xx.fbcdn.net
The memories of that night in Munich are hopefully still fresh in all our minds. Lampard wore the armband, while Terry sat in the stands after his dismissal for kneeing a Barca player in the back in the semifinal second leg. The two men have served Chelsea so faithfully, it is impossible not to compare them.
Both men bleed blue, the lion-hearted of London, and two men came in before the big money was there to buy their loyalty. Regardless of how you may regard Terry, he has become a figure that is difficult to defend to the public. Lampard, however, has always been a man whose character was lauded. When he claimed the top spot on Chelsea's goal scorer's list, pundits from north to south were singing his praises. He will wear the armband for England in their upcoming friendly, and the respect he has from the likes of Theo Walcott, for example, is proof that he deserves the honor.
Ashley Cole was let go this season, and the sentiment at his departure was about what I expected. He was a servant to the club, and a legendary left back, but he wasn't quite pure Chelsea. He didn't have the chance to be. He was brought in from Arsenal with Russian money, and was always marked by it. Moreover, his on and off-the-field exploits always left something to be desired in the class department, even if his performances didn't. That's why seeing someone like Luke Shaw or Alberto Moreno don a kit with 3 on it won't be unbearable next season.
Has there ever been a more fitting moment for Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"? - via www3.pictures.zimbio.com
Seeing 8 on another back in Chelsea blue, however, represents a different emotional challenge altogether. Frank Lampard won everything with Chelsea, from scoring the goals that brought us our first title in half a century to captaining our side through the most hard-fought Champions League final in memory. He put a penalty away on that night as well, don't forget. And through all this, including a brilliant goal or two (hundred and eleven) along the way, Lampard never changed who he was. He was ever the supreme example of class and professionalism that every young player ought to learn from. He never lost his humility, never sacrificed himself ethically, and never forgot the fans. And that's why we'll never forget him.
LEGEND. - via i.dailymail.co.uk
If you like, take a look at how he talks about the club and fans in this 2-part interview from Chelsea TV with Zola and Pat Nevin: Part 1, Part 2. (If you don't have a ChelseaTV subscription already, get one, as there are a lot of great Lampard tribute videos up there now, and youth team football is fun.)
We're not going to say goodbye, because a legend like him will always be able to call Stamford Bridge home. Bobby Tambling is still around, still treasured by the club and its fans, even those like me, who are too young to have seen the man in his prime. Lampard will be around, like Zola is. There will be a substantial bit of highlight videos in the next few months. He'll be honored a hundred times over the next decade by the club, the league, and the country, and if he's honored a hundred more after that, it won't have been more than he deserves.
He will have a statue at the Bridge. Even if I had to sculpt it myself, he would. Peter Osgood was an icon and a tremendous talent, but Frank Lampard Jr. redefined what it means to be a Chelsea legend. As the only man to win three Chelsea Player of the Year awards has done his entire career, Lamps has set the bar higher than anyone else dreamed. I look at the unbelievable talents in the first team: Oscar, Hazard, Matic, Azpilicueta, Courtois, and you know what I think? Good luck measuring up to that, boys.