Commitment was Lampard's watchword

Commitment was Lampard's watchword


Frank Lampard hit Miami last Monday, then called time on his 13-year career with Chelsea.

He was in Florida to captain England’s team in a World Cup warm-up game against Ecuador and there is plenty of speculation that he will return to the United States to join New York City FC, a new MLS. franchise that will begin play next year.His future, he said, will not be decided until after the World Cup. Lampard turns 36 this month and reportedly has 16 offers to play for teams on both sides of the Atlantic.

But in an age where players change clubs as casually as city commuters change buses, he has been one player who stands for consistency, longevity and loyalty. The Chelsea FC website concluded a 2,000-word tribute to him with these words: “Any Chelsea supporter who has had the good fortune to watch Super Frank Lampard in full flow will know we have never seen his like in our midfield before, and we will be very blessed to again see his equal.”

In raw statistics, Lampard’s career is indeed unlikely ever to repeated by anyone in Chelsea blue. He played in the industrious heart of the team, a midfield workhorse who nevertheless so mastered the art of timing his forward runs that he scored more goals than anyone else for the club.

His 211 goals in 648 games for the team eclipsed the Chelsea record of 202 goals set in 1970 by Bobby Tambling. And while it is true that Tambling needed almost one-third fewer games to notch his goals, it is also a fact that Tambling was an out-and-out striker, playing at a time when Chelsea was not always a first-division team.

Lampard always was — and England hopes he will continue to be for another month — far more than a goal scorer. He is a key man in the midfield. He combines defense with attacks. He lends balance and leadership. And after 103 caps for his country, he should know by now when to run with the ball, when to pass it to younger legs and when, indeed, to strike from deep. Above all else, Lampard has been the example to younger players of where consistency, desire and a commitment to self-improvement can lead.

He hasn’t been, by any means, the most gifted individual on any of the teams he has played for. In his time at Chelsea, there has been the awesome power of Didier Drogba and the impish Gianfranco Zola with his dancing feet. “Lamps” saw them all come and go, yet he remained. He, the captain John Terry and the left back Ashley Cole forged the English spine to a club that changed its roster on a seasonal basis, depending on which world-class players were imported by Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich.

Lampard was born into a soccer family. His father, Frank Lampard Sr, was a West Ham United and England defender. His uncle, Harry Redknapp, was manager of West Ham when Frank Jr apprenticed there, before Chelsea paid 11 million pounds (now about $18.5 million) to buy him in 2001.

That purchase preceded Abramovich’s ownership and José Mourinho’s first spell as coach. Lampard has since been a permanent fixture in a locker room that must have had a revolving door for the ever-changing cast of coaches and players.

I used the word ‘industry’ to define Lampard. He has intelligence, too, and there will not be many English players who leave school for a soccer career as he did with top grades in 11 different subjects, including Latin. He might, had soccer failed him, have gone on to be a doctor, a scientist or an academic. But all options were shunned because this boy, not outstanding in the eyes of youth coaches or scouts, was intoxicated by the game.

Lampard’s role on the team has often been to shape the game rather than to finish the chances. Lately, as his speed slowed as it does to everyone in their mid-thirties, he occupied an anchor role in the Chelsea lineup.

It didn’t seem to matter. He scored in double figures, season after season, throughout a decade in which foreigners heavily outnumbered English players on nearly every team in the Premier League.

Lampard, the deputy captain, stepped up to lead the team when John Terry was suspended for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 2012. It was Lampard who made the pass that allowed Drogba to score and take that final into extra time.

As the leader, Lampard scored one of the penalty kicks that won the shootout. By then an elder statesman in the unrelenting physicality of the English league, Lampard accepted season-by-season extensions to his contract. After seeing nine managers come and go, his pay was a reported $13 million a year, and there is a limit to how long even oligarchs will pay such wages.

It is over. Most observers expect New York to be his next destination, but maybe for family reasons he will stay in London. Meanwhile, another line when he reached his 10-year anniversary at Chelsea summed him up: “Lampard,” the club’s website stated in 2011, “Ten years and 100 percent.”