Frank Lampard regularly wrote new chapters in football’s history books, but that was no happy knack: the East Ender’s stellar career was testament to the virtues of self-improvement and dedication.
The attacking midfielder, renowned for his peerless ability to find space in the area – and then find the net – arrived for £11m from West Ham in 2001. A relatively quiet start alongside big personalities such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Emmanuel Petit belied what was to follow as he emerged a leader in the finest teams ever to grace Stamford Bridge.
The 164 consecutive Premier League appearances he notched up (a record for any outfield player) speak of consistency but mask his more exceptional qualities. The no.8 would play vital roles in all of Chelsea’s remarkable successes between 2005 and 2013, from the winning goals at Bolton in 2005 that won the league for the first time, through the 2010 Double, to his captaincy of the side that lifted successive European cups in 2012 and 2013.
In May 2013 he eclipsed Bobby Tambling’s long-standing goalscoring record of 202 and left having established a new high of 211. Medals for three Premier League wins, four FA Cups, two League Cups, as well as those Europa League and Champions League triumphs, were rewards for hard work as well as physical and mental strength.
A methodical self-analyst, advised by his ever-present father, Frank senior, the midfielder would spend each close season improving what he could in his game – set-plays, penalties, bursts of pace, through-passes – to become the complete footballer, with admirers worldwide.
He was named football writers’ Footballer of the Year, runner-up in the 2005 European and World Player of the Year polls, and was routinely mentioned by his peers as one of the top players in the game.
Thoughtful and intelligent, Lampard’s almost metaphysical connection with the Blues’ faithful was forged when, in the wake of his mother’s shock death in 2008, he dispatched a vital Champions League penalty against Liverpool then looked, moist-eyed, to the heavens. Under Munich skies in the same competition four years later, he was raising the trophy that signified the club’s greatest ever night.
After 13 years at the Bridge Frank departed in June 2014 as one of the finest players in Chelsea Football Club’s history, and perhaps the best of the lot.
Lampard returned as Chelsea head coach in July 2019.
Although he knew Chelsea and the Premier League inside and out, he arrived with relatively little managerial experience. His one previous job in the role had been in the Championship with Derby County, but brought positive results, as he led a side featuring Blues loanees Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori to the play-off final.
Lampard returned at a difficult time for Chelsea, with star man Eden Hazard having departed and a transfer ban meaning our only new signing for 2019/20 was Christian Pulisic, thanks to that deal being agreed earlier in the year, along with Mateo Kovacic making his loan from Real Madrid permanent.
The season started with a heavy, albeit undeserved, defeat at Manchester United, and then a penalty shoot-out loss to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup, but they were followed by seven consecutive wins as the young team started to find its feet.
Lampard was close to securing a perfect record in October, but it was spoiled by a Carabao Cup exit to Man Utd, and our form waivered after that set-back.
A comprehensive 4-0 win over Everton in March 2020 combined with an FA Cup victory against run-away league leaders Liverpool seemed to represent a return to form, but turned out to be our last game until 21 June as the Covid-19 pandemic brought football to a halt.
We continued to show the same improvement when sport returned, earning maximum points from all our remaining home matches to secure a top-four finish and Champions League qualification by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers on the last day of the 2019/20 league season.
There were still cup ties to look forward to in that delayed end to the campaign, but we could not secure silverware in August as we suffered a narrow defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup final and were then beaten by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16.
With the transfer ban now over, a number of high-profile signings joined Lampard’s squad for the delayed start of 2020/21.
By mid-December, we had lost just one league match, to holders Liverpool in our first home fixture, with a nine-game unbeaten run propelling us briefly to the top of the table, in addition to making it through the Champions League group stage without losing.
That was to be the high-point, though, as we lost five of our next eight Premier League fixtures, dropping into mid-table, and a loss at Leicester would be Lampard’s last league game as Chelsea manager before he left the club in late January, to be replaced by Thomas Tuchel.