Yet there is little doubt, after he became Chelsea’s second top scorer of all time at the weekend, that he is a true club legend. He has been absolutely vital to Chelsea during the most successful years of their entire history. And unlike John Terry, his reputation is as good off the field as it is on it.
A hard working, amiable character, who has rarely been involved in controversy, Lampard is a role model for any aspiring youngster today. He is not flashy. He does not have blistering pace, flashy skills, or even domineering physicality. What Lampard has is endurance, intelligence and technique. He is one of the most reliable players you can find. The great Steven Gerrard Frank Lampard debate in England often saw people side with the Liverpool man due to his ability to win a game alone. Lampard rarely does that, but he is just as important, arguably more so. He is a player a team can be built around. He keeps the ball ticking, rarely wasting a pass, rarely missing a good run. Last year as Chelsea stunned Barcelona in the Champions League his role was undervalued. He was the player who sent a superb pass into Ramires in the home leg, turning defence into attack instantly. Seconds later, Didier Drogba had scored.
In the second leg, down to ten men after that most loathsome of individuals, John Terry, had got himself sent off, and 2-0 down on the night, Chelsea were heading out of the Champions League. They had little hope, seemingly, against the best side in the world. Then, approaching half time, Ramires passed the ball to Lampard and set off on a run down the right. Lampard played a superb, inch perfect pass over the top and into the Brazilian, whose finish was just as accomplished as the pass that preceded it. Drogba gets most of the plaudits for Chelsea’s victory in last year’s tournament, but no one can be said to have done more than Lampard. He was essential to the most unlikely of triumphs.
Possibly undermined in the eyes of the neutrals by his association with some of the more unsavoury characters of recent years, that should only enhance Lampard’s reputation. Close to Jose Mourinho, the infuriating Real Madrid coach, the easy to dislike and continually controversial John Terry and along with him, a key part of the ‘old guard’, Lampard also belongs in the same category of Chelsea stars as Drogba and Ashley Cole. Those two as well are easily dislikeable by most, the former for his histrionics and gamesmanship on the field, although it is easy to overlook some of his noble work off it. Cole on the other hand, has done little to endear himself to football watchers over the years. Lampard is so inextricably woven into this circle, this group of figures which have come to define the modern Chelsea, that it would be easy to dislike him by association. Yet that he remains eminently likeable, and above the fray of the controversies which have marred Chelsea for so long, is testament to his character.
It is not hard to understand why Roman Abramovich wants a break from the past. He is trying to build a new Chelsea, a Barcelona inspired team who entertain and thrill neutrals. He knows that he needs to offload those most closely associated with Mourinho to do that. Yet of all those players Chelsea are understandably looking to offload, Lampard is the one who deserves and should stay on. Manchester United and Arsenal are both examples of why it is dangerous to discard experience. Untied because their success is linked to their retention of the stars of the team of the late 1990s, such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Arsenal because their decline of recent years has coincided with them selling off all the experienced members of their invincible team of 2004. Chelsea should heed that lesson and keep one of the old guard. And none deserve to stay more than the evergreen and reliable Lampard.