LAMPARD SEES REST OF CAREER AT CHELSEA
Frank Lampard anticipates spending the rest of his playing career with Chelsea.
Despite much media speculation towards the end of last season that he could move to Barcelona — causing Barcelona in the end to state a denial of interest — he has no doubts that he wants to stay at Stamford Bridge.
"I'm very content, I'm content in myself and I'm content at Chelsea.
"I've had a great time here. I've mentioned in the book ('Totally Frank', his autobiography) that it's like two separate halves and the move to Chelsea was a really pivotal moment in my career. It was a moment that was so positive for me, and I'm very thankful in regard to Chelsea for that."
He admits it has gone better than even he anticipated.
"I always wanted to get to the top and probably circumstances have helped me in a way with the money that has come in and really pushed us up there. I just wanted to come here and be a success. I didn't know if that meant winning back-to-back Leagues or perhaps getting in the Champions League. Maybe in those terms it's gone better than I expected."
And so he can see himself staying for good.
"At the moment I can. It's hard to talk about the future but I've got too much of a relationship with my team-mates and the fans and with what the club's done for me. I respect that the good things that have happened to me since I've been at Chelsea, a lot of it is down to me and what I've done, and I've worked hard to accomplish, but I feel like I'm part of the family now and I'll always have a big, big place in my heart for Chelsea for what's happened in the last few years. They will always be my team.
"We have a great opportunity. There's many players who go through their career without opportunities to win League and Champions League, we're in a lucky situation as a squad that we have that opportunity. We have to grab it. And the opportunity hopefully is going to be there for the coming years."
He admits talks have started about an extension of contract, but that they've yet to progress.
"I've got three years left on my deal, we were approached before the World Cup. I didn't want to talk about it then because the World Cup was fresh in my mind and I wanted to concentrate on that. Since then we haven't talked again but the aim is to talk again pretty soon I think. But I'll wait for Chelsea to come to me, I've got three years, I'm not going to batter the door down.
"I wouldn't want an escape clause. I wouldn't ask for one and I wouldn't need that."
On the subject of the pursuit of a third successive Premiership title and the introduction into the squad of bigger players than previously signed — Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack — he is relaxed about them fitting in. He believes there is no chance of them altering the ethos of the squad.
"We just won't let that happen. I don't think the people we have at the club, as in the manager for starters, and the players, and probably that starts with me and John, John being captain and me being vice… we've signed what I suppose you'd call stars in Ballack and Shevchenko, and in what they've done in their careers they are. But the way they've settled they're not superstar personalities.
"They fitted straight into our way, and that's what everyone does when they join the club. You can read too much into that calling them stars and pointing in a galactico direction… I don't think we'll ever do that. And I think if we did, it wouldn't be a good sign for Chelsea. We have to keep our unity and our spirit and our togetherness.
"It begins with our manager and I think everyone understands him, he's a very strong personality. He sees the team first rather than the individual, and I don't think he'd buy a player that could destruct the rest of the team."
Everyone, including himself and the major signings, he reckons can face time out of the team, and it's how the team deals with that which is important.
"The resting thing can happen. I don't think in the modern day if we were to win everything, not to say we will, it would be 70 games and you'd have to be superhuman to play 90 minutes in every one of them.
"In terms of being dropped, that can also happen because we've got such a strong squad, and if your levels drop you can be out of the team. Now I think that's been the situation for the last few years. Maybe it's become even more competitive with even more quality that the team has, and I think this year on paper we've got more quality than before.
"But we have to perform. In the last two years we've had lots of players, and players that aren't playing at times and of course they aren't happy and shouldn't be happy, but we've always kept everyone in the family, and it's never affected us on the pitch or around the dressing room. And that's a fine balance, it's not easy to do, but I think we find a way of doing it."
One thing that will not be a fine balance, he foresees, is playing in midfield with Michael Ballack.
"I think from my early playing with Michael in pre-season, he's a very good player to play with because he's a very intelligent footballer. He doesn't hold on to the ball too long for the sake of it, he moves the ball quickly, he looks for you in the right positions, he takes up good positions. The only thing that might affect us slightly is that last year I was our top scorer, and I've not got free range again, sometimes I didn't, but now Michael is also a goalscoring midfielder, sometimes he'll want to get in there. It might mean I don't score as many goals. I hope it's not the case but in terms of playing together I don't see a problem at all. I've enjoyed the opening glimpses of what we can do together and we can only get better."
As the Premier League starts again it remains the peak of his focus. But only just.
"I always feel, and I don't know if it's because I'm English and it's slightly different, but I grew up with the Premier League, I grew up with week-in week-out football, that's what I watched as a kid, and to say your team is the best in England has always been the first and foremost thought to me. But of course the Champions League is a massive thing now in the modern day, and it's something we've been close to but not quite close enough, so it's become more and more important and it gets to a level where it is up there with winning the League. But when we start the League I think of the League. But I really want to win the Champions League.
"You can see it being tighter. The first year we won it we won it very comfortably. Last year, maybe the points don't show how comfortably we did win it because the last two games became a bit 'nothing' in a way. When you look around at the competition now you see three teams who are as strong as they've been against us. Liverpool have developed again from last year, Manchester United are going to be strong, Arsenal are going to be strong off the back of what they did in the Champions League and Henry's stayed, I think it might make for a more competitive Premier League. You'd be happy to win it by one point, and 20 points doesn't make any difference in history really."
With the launch of a new season, England remains important to the 48 caps midfielder.
"I am hungry to earn as many caps as I can. I want to play for the next few years."
That doesn't mean he wants to be captain.
"I do and I don't because of course everyone wants to be England captain. If you said I don't want to be England captain people would say, hang on what are you talking about. Where's your ambition, you should never rule that out. But John is captain now, it was the right choice.
"John is a fantastic captain for Chelsea. He'll carry that over to England. It's in his nature to be a good captain and leader. Of course I'd love to captain England one day but I'm fully behind John, and nothing would make me happier than if when I finish my career he's still captain, 'cos that would mean he's been successful and we've all been successful, and that's the way we want it to be."
Frank is fit to take his place in midfield against Manchester City in Chelsea's opening League game today.
by Neil Barnett