If there’s one impression you walk away after reading Frank Lampard’s revealing interview in The Guardian, it’s that for him, playing football at the highest level wasn’t as much about fun, as it was about pressure and proving himself.
The wide-ranging talk — it’s a must read, really — covers everything from his playing days to his retirement, future plans and family. But the thing that sticks out is how little fun he sometimes had while proving himself to his biggest critic, himself.
So it’s no surprise that, in a way, he’s glad it’s all over.
“When you’re at a big club, there isn’t much breathing space. You’re continuously trying to win things, to perform to the best of your ability, and it can be quite tiring. I’ll be honest, at the end of my career I was ready to move on.
“In terms of the intense pressure I put on myself for that period of time, I felt ready. I’m asked a lot now: ‘Are you missing football?’ And I’m actually not. I sit here pretty happy with my lot.”
For sure, the smiles, the joy were there when Chelsea won things, when he scored. But what we never saw was the work he put in behind the scenes. Constantly pushing himself to be better, the model professional. But that’s all over now, and he’s glad.
“I’ve hardly kicked a ball since I finished, and I’ve got no craving to kick a ball.
“I didn’t make all the right decisions in my career, far from it, but when I got to the end I felt I’d given it my full whack. When you can think: ‘I put everything on the table and that’s my lot,’ I think you have been quite successful. That’s probably what drove me on as a player for quite a long while – I wanted to make sure I took every ounce out of the game and got the most out of myself.
“And then it becomes like a relief, when you feel that the work’s done and it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have too many failures, and I actually did some pretty good stuff. I’m very content with that.”
A lot of athletes -- especially those who have long careers like Lampard’s two decades — struggle when they retire. The game was such a big part of their identity that when it’s gone, they become lost. Not Lamps. Retiring may have been a “smack in the face”, but he needed it.
“When you’re playing you get looked after, you have people around you who completely put you out of the real world, and then the real world hits you smack in the face when you finish. But I was fortunate in that the transition hasn’t been a problem for me. I needed the pause, I really did. I needed the lack of structure in my life for a while. I felt kind of ready for that. It was a necessity for me to get away.
“It’s been a year and a half, almost, and now I have the hunger. So it’ll come when it comes, if the right opportunity comes for me.”
The “it” he’s talking about is coaching. In September he’ll start studying for his Pro License, which is the one that all full-time managers in UEFA-mandated football leagues need, and the one that allows a coach to manage games in the Champions League and the Europa League.
It’s at least a year’s worth of grinding through coursework, both in class and practical, on top of the A and B licenses that must first be acquired. (Lampard showed up regularly at Cobham over the past year as he completed his “homework” for those prerequisites.) Two of Super Frank’s biggest talents, as he himself acknowledges, during his career were his “work ethic and dedication” and that’s how he will be approaching this next phase as well.
“I’ve picked up a lot in this year, working in the media, travelling around. You have to do it properly. I don’t just roll up and go: ‘That was a good game.’ You have to look at the players, the tactics.
“That’s why I’m not setting a time limit on the move into management. You don’t just flick a switch – you need to learn a lot again. There are no shortcuts as I see it.”
Despite his family name and connections, there never were any shortcuts for Lampard (Harry Redknapp’s most famous interview the prime example of that). Frankie is the epitome of a man who worked for everything he got. That trait will doubtless serve him well as a coach — Antonio Conte often talks about how he labors to prepare a team, his sleepless nights.
And yet, when Lamps finally takes charge of a squad, he won’t be disappointed if they’re not all versions of his own hard-working self. One of his goals is to learn how to handle diversity — and leadership.
“As a player you can be pretty selfish. As a manager it’s the complete opposite of that. I’m really interested in the idea of trying to man-manage a group as well as I possibly could, to deal with a real mixed, diverse dressing room like we have these days.
There’s not one rule for everyone. I read a lot now because I love to find out about how other managers have tackled these things. That’s where the magic is.”
There haven’t been many more intelligent players than Frank, so if leadership can be learned, then he’ll learn it. He’ll also bring a set of values that should stand him in good stead. Arrogance, rudeness won’t have a place on his watch.
“What you put in is what you get out. I think that in modern society – and I’m not preaching here, far from it – we do forget the basics, in terms of manners and respect for the people around you. I got brought up with those things, particularly from my mum, so I try to replicate them as much as I can, and pass them on to my daughters.
“I certainly don’t feel that I approach life now the way I did when I was 20. You learn a million things along the road, and I’m learning more now. But I do treat people as I want to be treated myself, and I try to take that around with me.”
That’s how he always carried himself as a player — thoughtful, polite, dedicated. Asked how he wants to be remembered, it’s not for his goals, his trophies, his career achievements. It’s for his manner.
“What I would have loved at the end of my career was for someone to just say: ‘He was a good team-mate.’ Not just on the pitch but also as a friend, as a buffer, as a person.”
I hope someone did. Because he was.