Chelsea Book Club is a new series where we take a Chelsea-related book and review some of the most interesting extracts. First up is Frank Lampard’s 2006 autobiography, Totally Frank…
A good book can be a priceless asset in this period of spending so many hours at home, while a good Chelsea book is even better to combat the lack of football action.
Lampard’s memoirs of his footballing childhood and rise through the ranks at West Ham, right up to the middle of his Stamford Bridge heyday as a player, offer incredible insight into the making of one of our all-time greats and life behind the scenes at that time.
After writing about growing up in a family firmly embedded in the foundations of English football, with his father Frank senior and uncle Harry Redknapp in the dugout at Upton Park at the time of his breakthrough, Lampard reveals what happened when he met then-Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri for the first time prior to his 2001 transfer across the capital.
Starting the Chelsea adventure
‘I liked Claudio Ranieri from the moment we met,’ he recalled. ‘I was excited as we drove to his house in Parsons Green and not only because I was about to meet the Chelsea manager with a view to signing for the club. I found him to be very friendly and open.’
Lampard felt a mutual respect between them straight away and admired the coach’s honesty in explaining how he was planning to help him fulfil his maximum potential.
‘I appreciate people who are straight with me and didn’t flinch when he said he wanted to improve the defensive side of my game,' he went on. 'There was nothing wrong with the attacking part. He had watched me play, studied me closely on video, and reckoned there was a split of 70/30 in favour of getting forward.
‘He wanted me for my energy and potential. Ranieri believed he could harness both and help me to become a better player. I was impressed. I had hardly said a word but already he’d tapped into my desire to want to improve.’
Lampard played under the Italian for three seasons after signing for Chelsea for £11.1m. He was handed the number eight shirt, his ‘lucky number’, and gradually settled into the team, initially on the right of midfield and then in his favoured central role.
Fast forward to the business end of the 2003/04 campaign and the Blues were progressing nicely in the Champions League ahead of a meeting with London rivals…
Beating the 'Invincibles'
Our season was heading towards a crescendo firmly focused on Europe when we were drawn against Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals.
The Gunners were unbeaten in the league, nine points clear of us at the top of the table, and had already knocked us out of the FA Cup. They were heavy favourites for a contest being billed in the media as ‘The Battle of Britain’ but Lampard remembers clearly the feeling of determination in the camp.
‘It was a contest we desperately wanted to win – for ourselves, for the manager and for Chelsea,’ he notes. ‘This was about pride and the chance to get to a European Cup semi-final for the first time in our history.'
Lampard recalls a big atmosphere at the Bridge for the first leg but regrets him and the team cold not produce the win everyone was willing on. It ended 1-1 after goals from Eidur Gudjohnsen and Robert Pires.
The fact Marcel Desailly was sent off near the end and therefore was suspended for the return leg led to most outside of Chelsea anticipating Arsenal would complete the job at Highbury.
The return in north London will go down in Chelsea folklore, with Lampard himself cancelling out Jose Antonio Reyes’s opener before the unlikeliest of match winners popped up with a goal to take us through.
‘With three minutes left, Wayne Bridge found himself running diagonally at the Arsenal goal,’ writes Lampard. ‘I was following on behind, hoping for a cut back. He left Lauren behind and ran towards the box. I could see a couple of blue shirts arriving in front of me.
‘Pass it Bridgey, pass it!’ He didn’t pass, nor did he cut it back to the edge of the area – he just drove it into the net all on his own.
‘Bridgey, you beauty. We went wild – piled on top of each other with our new hotshot at the centre of it. Our fans were celebrating one of the most important wins in our history and you would have needed a surgeon to take the smile off my face.’
Our run was ultimately ended at the semi-final stage after a 5-3 aggregate defeat to Monaco, who were themselves beaten in the final by a Porto side managed by a certain Jose Mourinho. It would take less than a year for Lampard to finally get his hands on silverware, though…
Best in the land
‘I was still buzzing with the adrenaline of the game but sat down with Eidur and we had a beer and watched the game on Match of the Day,’ says Lampard of the evening after his brace secured the 2004/05 Premier League title for Chelsea at the Reebok against Bolton Wanderers.
‘I could hardly believe what I was watching. I could see myself on the screen – me, Eidur, John, Coley, big Pete, Ricky, Geremi, Tiago, Maka, Didi. I scored one, then another.
'It was like watching a dream – your own dream, there for everyone to see, and it was perfect, absolutely perfect. We had won two trophies and in claiming the league we had proved ourselves to be the best team in England.’
So difficult did our Premier League rivals find it to keep pace with Mourinho’s side in that period that they even resorted to pushing negative labels our way, including the suggestion that the football being played at Stamford Bridge was boring. Lampard recalls this with a mixture of annoyance and humour.
‘The boring tag had started with Sir Alex Ferguson. Boring for some maybe but not for us. Ferguson claimed we were too direct which was strange given that the OPTA stats for our season that year [2005/06] showed we had most goals, most shots on goal, most passes completed, and, critically, most points.
‘Some of the Liverpool players then kicked off another round of banter baiting when they compared our style to the Wimbledon team of old. I found that one very amusing since Liverpool were the team who signed Peter Crouch, and if you do that you’re clearly going to play to his strengths.’
Totally Frank: My Autobiography was originally published by HarperSport in 2006. Click here to purchase a copy.