London (AFP) – With rain lashing Chelsea’s training ground, Frank Lampard’s team-mates had long since retreated to their palatial changing rooms, but for the tireless midfielder the hard work was only just beginning.
When Lampard called time on his glittering 21-year career on Thursday, the 38-year-old was typically gracious and humble about his remarkable journey.
But it was notable that Lampard has no intention of sitting still and his focus has already turned to the next chapter in his football life as he prepares to move into coaching.
It was ever thus for one of England’s greatest goal-scoring midfielders, a man who rose to the top through bloody-minded determination and a relentless work ethic that ensured that, while he might not have been as naturally gifted as some of his peers, he would earn the right to compete alongside and often outshine the world’s best.
Nothing encapsulated Lampard’s commitment to honing his art more than that soggy scene at Chelsea headquarters before the 2007 FA Cup final.
By then, Lampard — son of former West Ham star Frank Lampard Senior — had already eclipsed his father’s achievements by winning the Premier League twice with Chelsea and establishing himself as an England international.
Yet even then Lampard wouldn’t allow himself to take a breather after a training session in torrential rain.
Instead, he grabbed a bag of balls, lined them up on the edge of the penalty area and proceeded to take a series of shots for more than 15 minutes.
Lampard’s club record 211 goals for Chelsea didn’t appear in the record books just by luck and this was the craftsman in his element, working on the angles and power that helped him outwit goalkeepers when the stakes were highest.
Less than 24 hours later, Lampard was voted man of the match after providing the assist that led to Didier Drogba’s winner in the Cup final against Manchester United.
– Courage and nous –
As he walked off the Wembley turf, Lampard was approaching his peak and reaping the rewards of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s motivational skills.
Fittingly for a player renowned for making perfectly timed runs to unhinge opposing defences, Lampard’s timing was spot-on when he joined Chelsea for £11 million in 2001.
West Ham fans might have been enraged by what they saw as a betrayal by one of their own, Lampard having emerged from the club’s youth academy, but his move to the west London club — and fierce West Ham rivals — was essential for his development.
Even Lampard admitted many of his contemporaries at youth level were more gifted, but few could match his desire for improvement and, under Mourinho, he went to finishing school, learning the tactical discipline and mental strength required to succeed at the highest level.
Lampard was a willing student and by 2005, when his goals against Bolton earned Chelsea a first English title in 50 years, he was well on the way to becoming one of the club’s all-time greats.
He won every major club honour in 13 years at Stamford Bridge, and earned 106 caps for England, before departing for Manchester City in 2014.
Lampard had immense stamina, making a staggering 164 consecutive Premier League appearances for Chelsea — a record for an outfield player — in more than four years.
He was a consummate professional, scoring an extra-time penalty to guide Chelsea to the Champions League final at Liverpool’s expense in 2008, six days after the death of his mother.
While England’s so-called golden generation fell short of expectations, with Lampard’s midfield partnership with Steven Gerrard never thriving, he was always able to raise his game for Chelsea.
Arguably his finest moment came in the 2012 Champions League final when he displayed remarkable tactical prowess and positional sense to drive Chelsea to victory over heavily favoured Bayern Munich in the German club’s own stadium.
It was an against-the-odds triumph that fitted the narrative of Lampard’s career to a tee.
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