The Strangely Controversial Career Of Frank Lampard

For such a garlanded footballer, conflict has followed Frank Lampard throughout a hugely successful career.

He is, without doubt, one of the greatest midfielders England has ever produced. Goals, consistency, goals, trophies and goals have been the hallmark of a lengthy spell at the top of the game.

But with Lampard, things have never been as simple as all that.

Very young Frank Lampard

Ickle Frank – ickle but with a big brain

As the son of West Ham legend Frank Lampard Sr, his smooth progression into the first team at Upton Park came with accusations of nepotism from some Hammers’ fans.

The fact that Lampard’s uncle, Harry Redknapp, was his club manager didn’t help matters, but only the most deluded of supporters – and there will always be plenty of those – could continue to claim Lampard did not deserve his place once he had settled into the side.

In only his second season at the club, he broke his leg against Aston Villa and, as he was stretchered from the pitch, Lampard said he was booed from the pitch by a section of the fans.

The bad blood was clearly there and five further seasons in east London failed to erase it all.

He left the club under a cloud, unhappy with the way his father had been treated, and his detractors were never going to be soothed by his choice for a new start.

To move was one thing, but to move across the capital to Chelsea was beyond acceptable for Hammers die-hards.

At Stamford Bridge, he set about proving to a new band of sceptical fans that the £11 million he cost was money well spent. Once he’d done that, it was nothing but love for Lampard.

Statistics don’t always tell all the tale, but not with Lampard at Chelsea.

In 648 games, Lampard banged in a club record 211 goals – as a midfielder, remember. He once played 164 consecutive Premier League matches for the club and scored big, big goals in European and domestic cup finals before skippering the side to both Champions League and Europa League glory.

He left the club, after 13 stellar years, a legend.

And then things got murkier again.

Lampard NY banner

Lampard gets a proper New York welcome from rival fans

Lampard signed for new MLS franchise New York City, filling the gap before the US season started with a loan stint at the more established City in Manchester.

Except, as it turned out, he never had signed for New York and all those American fans who’d bought Lampard shirts were left feeling like mugs.

In Manchester, nobody was complaining. Lampard went about his business and scored a further eight goals (including one, inevitably, against Chelsea) in 38 games during his final Premiership season before finally actually definitely making the move to New York.

Internationally, Lampard sometimes replicated his domestic form in an England shirt, most notably at Euro 2004 where he scored three goals and made the team of the tournament.

Lamps and Gerrard feel the love

Lampard and Gerrard in happier times

But throughout his England days, he was dogged by a recurring question: ‘Why can’t Lampard and Gerrard play together?’

The lament was, on the face of it, both true and unsurprising. Both players, after all, were box-to-box, goalscoring midfielders used to a certain free rein at their clubs. To have one such player in your team was gold dust; to have two dysfunctional.

Except the pair dovetailed perfectly well at Euro 2004 in an England team that was both confident and fearless, inspired by the precocious talents of a prodigal Wayne Rooney.

England only faltered when Rooney’s metatarsals went south against Portugal, a late Lampard equaliser sending the game to a penalty shoot-out where…well you all know what happens then.

Lampard’s World Cup experiences were more painful still. Three times he went, three times he failed to score despite numerous attempts and one infamous ‘goal’ against Germany which crossed the line by a mere mile or so but was somehow missed by everyone paid to actually notice such things.

That incident was a major factor behind FIFA’s decision to belatedly usher in goal-line technology and it also served as a fitting symbol for an England career in which Lampard experienced achievement, anguish and anti-climax in roughly equal measure.

When he retires – and it could be a while yet – he’ll be too rich and clever to go into management. He is, after all, the proud holder of an A* in Latin among ten other GCSEs, which is not something you write about a footballer every day.

Punditry, maybe, or some other TV career seems perfect for him.

And as the years go by, more and more people will wonder what all the fuss was about because it will seem obvious to them that Frank Lampard was a true great of the modern game. No controversy, no conflict, no doubt.

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