Lampard to leave Chelsea

Frank Lampard's momentous career as a Chelsea player will end when his contract expires at the end of this month.

Lampard has not yet announced his destination but all at Chelsea Football Club wish him every success for the future. He leaves with our enormous gratitude for the major part he played over 13 years packed with unforgettable victories, trophies lifted and records set.

He blazed a trail during his long Chelsea career. Only Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti played more than his 648 games and Lampard famously leads our all-time scoring chart. His goal touch allied with all-round quality and fantastic stamina helped change the way football views the modern central midfield player.

He was a man for the biggest occasions - not least when his goals fired the team to the league title at Bolton in 2005, when he provided the vital pass for Didier Drogba's winner in the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley, or when he led the team in John Terry's absence in the Champions League final in Munich.

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Lampard's brilliance was not just limited to the deluge of goals he netted over his years at Stamford Bridge - 211 in total at an average of over 16 a season - nor was it confined to the significance of so many of those strikes. What really stands him out as one of the all-time greats was his extraordinary consistency.

He netted 20 or more goals for five consecutive seasons and according to statistics compiled for Premier League assists, he has supplied the second-highest figure in that competition's history. He made a record-breaking 164 consecutive league appearances between 2001 and 2005, still the highest for an outfield player.

The facts may seem to speak for themselves but in truth they barely tell half the story. It is Lampard's dedication to improvement throughout his career that is perhaps the most remarkable facet of his game. Through this unflinching commitment, he blossomed from the solid Premier League midfielder he was when he joined Chelsea, to become the runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards four years later. No such global recognition has been bestowed on any other Chelsea player, before or since.

Purchased by Claudio Ranieri from West Ham in the summer of 2001 to help plug the summer departures of fans' favourites Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet, Lampard's life at the Bridge began steadily rather than spectacularly but there were examples of the important and well-taken goals that would soon proliferate, and his commanding display against Arsenal's Patrick Vieira in the 2002 FA Cup final in Cardiff gave an indication of the powerful performance with which he would soon make his name.

The following season was a strong one individually and collectively, with Lampard racking up 38 league appearances during a campaign that finished with an invaluable Champions League qualifying spot.

That summer, Roman Abramovich bought the club. With an influx of new stars, many of them midfielders, competition for places increased immensely but Lampard was able to rise to the challenge and raise his game again, quickly emerging as one of the first names on Ranieri's often-changing teamsheet as we sought glory on domestic and European fronts.

The goals from midfield began to flow, including ones of the long-range variety that were increasingly a speciality. His Champions League strike at home to Lazio - viciously hit across the ball - stands out. There were more and more vital goals, too, such as the winning penalty against Man United in November that took us top, while further European finishes followed against Arsenal and Monaco in the competition's latter stages.

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We finished 2003/04 second in the league and semi-finalists in the Champions League. As the quality of our squad soared and the importance of our games increased, so Lampard became a firm fans' favourite and he won the club's Player of the Year award for the first time; two more would follow, in the following year and in 2009. He is the only player to collect the accolade three times.

His importance to the side only magnified under incoming manager Jose Mourinho, and as vice-captain he ended 2004/05 with a Premiership winner's medal, a League Cup winner's medal and a hatful of special memories, none more wonderful than the two goals so clinically converted at Bolton that secured our first top-flight title for exactly 50 years. He was elected the Sportswriters' Player of the Year.

Recognition for Lampard's talents soon spread further afield. By the end of the following season, he had finished runner-up in the voting for both World Player of the Year and European Player of the Year. Though Lampard's extraordinary run of consecutive league games was broken on 164 in 2005/06, he hit the remarkable total of 20 goals for the first time as we romped to the title again.

We not only had the best team in the country; we had the best player. Goals and assists galore from open play and set-pieces alike were blended with disciplined and dominating midfield performances that contributed both to a fearsome frontline and an extraordinarily tight defensive unit.

The goals kept on coming, as did the appearances - the 62 games Lampard played during 2006/07 were the most by any player in our history at that point. The season finished with silverware, too, in the form of his maiden FA Cup and a second League Cup. Our Champions League venture ended at the semi-final stage again but not before Lampard had struck what he considered the best goal of his Chelsea career, the astonishing lob from the tightest of angles in a group stage game in Barcelona. It certainly rivalled the brilliant chest-and-swivelled finish past Bayern Munich's Oliver Kahn in the same competition two years earlier.

While two rare injuries affected Lampard the following season, tragedy struck in April 2008 with the death of his mother but his courage and nerve in scoring a vital Champions League semi-final penalty against Liverpool, immediately on his return from compassionate leave, remains to this day one of the strongest and most emotionally charged images in our history.

The now regular 20-goal landmark was reached in our first Champions League final in Moscow, and though that year ended without a trophy, Lampard could still look back on another vintage season, including the milestone of 100 Chelsea goals achieved midway through it.

Despite rumoured interest from abroad, he penned a new five-year deal in the summer of 2008 and capped another season of exceptional consistency with yet another indelible Chelsea memory, an FA Cup final-winning goal. It arrived in typical fashion, pinged into the top corner from range - and all the more impressive for being on his supposedly weaker left foot - with the celebration that followed paying homage to his footballing father, Frank Senior, who had done the same in an FA Cup semi-final 29 years earlier.

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Going into the 2009/10 season, Lampard was 31. Some thought his best may be behind him but how wrong they were. Our glorious Double-winning campaign was in no small part down to his decisive impact throughout. He finished with a career-high 27 goals, including 14 in our last 15 games and he helped lift the FA Cup at Wembley for the third time in four years.

What was missing from his CV were European titles. Semi-final and final heartbreak had put paid to our Champions League aspirations five times out of eight but, in a campaign fraught with drama, we finally put that right in 2012.

He hadn't started in Naples when we suffered a 3-1 loss in the first knockout stage but he was back in the team for the return leg and soon back among the goals, netting a nerveless penalty to take the tie to extra-time during which we dramatically squeezed our way through.

Another penalty was converted in the next round as Benfica were doggedly overcome. Then, in the semi-final, Lampard had to show his defensive resilience against the tiki-taka of Barcelona. There was still space in his locker for one moment of attacking magic, helping turn the tie back in our favour when all seemed lost during the second leg.

Two goals and a man down in the Camp Nou, Lampard picked the ball up from Ramires, shrugged off a challenge and played the most inch-perfect through ball you could ever wish to see. Perfectly-weighted, impeccably-placed, the Brazilian was able to capitalise on the return pass and our date with destiny in Munich became a reality.

With Terry suspended it was Lampard who captained the side on 19 May 2012 and as so often before, he delivered again. This time, though, it was from a slightly deeper position than the one we had long grown accustomed to seeing him operate from, further evidence of his ability to adapt his game to the occasion.

Two long hours of football couldn't separate the sides but the shoot-out did, joyously, in our favour. Lampard of course thrashed his spot-kick in, just as he had in Moscow four years before. Unlike that rainy night in Russia, though, it was blue hands on the famous trophy, lifted by Lampard and Terry to the ecstasy of Chelsea supporters everywhere.

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There was another FA Cup success to cherish that season, too. Lampard provided not just a sensational free-kick in the semi-final against Spurs but also another crucial Chelsea assist, this time for Didier Drogba's winner in the final.

His penultimate season at the Bridge featured the considerable sideshow of edging towards Bobby Tambling's goal record. 203 was the figure required to surpass it. Number 200 was reached against his former club West Ham in March 2013 and even better was to follow in May.

It was fitting that the brace at Villa Park that took Lampard clear of Tambling were not just landmark goals on a personal level; they were also vital goals for the club, helping to recover a deficit and all but secure our place in the following season's Champions League. Timing, for Lampard, was everything; whether it was when he arrived in the box, or when he scored his goals, this was a man capable of consistently delivering when it mattered.

What was particularly fitting about those two goals was the manner in which they came; the first, to equal the record, bent into the far corner from 18 yards out with Lampard's left foot; the second, to beat it, converted from close range after a trademark run into the box. It was the latter characteristic, in particular, that had long made Lampard such a dangerous midfield player.

By now, he had fundamentally changed how players operating in midfield would be judged. He had set the benchmark for goalscoring midfielders who frequently changed the course of a game. In that respect, he can be considered one of the greatest of all time.

Lampard completed his set of major club honours when we won the Europa League soon after that special day in Birmingham. At the campaign's end, the club presented him with a Special Recognition Award for his service, and Tambling handed him a golden boot to commemorate the goalscoring feat.

His final year at the Bridge was under the returning Jose Mourinho. Although it ended without silverware, there was still plenty of big-game nous left in Lampard from his now more customary position in a two-man central midfield in front of the defence.

The 22-year-old Lampard who signed for Chelsea in 2001 held two England caps. The now 35-year-old has 103 national team appearances to his name, including 29 goals. He will have an opportunity to extend those figures before and during this summer's World Cup, the third of his career.

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One of the delights of football fandom is being able to compare, to contrast, to judge; across generations, continents and platforms.

That Lampard has won more international caps while playing for Chelsea than anyone else in our history only strengthens the argument that he is one of the very greatest players to have represented the club.

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.

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