Interview

Frank Lampard on phase one return to training, behind-closed-doors football and the importance of mental health awareness

While Frank Lampard has been at Cobham today for day five of the return to training, an interview he recorded for the BBC’s Football Focus programme has also been broadcast.

The TV appearance was an opportunity for the Chelsea boss to report on the initial resumption of activity in line with the Premier League’s phase one of the Return to Training Protocol, and at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week and ahead of a new documentary called Football, Prince William and our Mental Health, in which Lampard will appear, he also spoke about what is an especially important subject at this time.

But first Lampard discussed phase one of training which began on Tuesday.

‘It’s been okay, it’s been great to see the players,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen them on many Zoom calls and WhatsApp chats so it’s been nice to keep to working. It [training] is very restricted and we have to abide by the restrictions because they’re there for a reason because of the time that we’re in.

‘It’s been good to get some work into the players, it’s individual work. This might be a difficult process or a slow process, safety has to come first. Once we get over phase one and see what phase two might look like and beyond that then we can think about getting games back, albeit behind closed doors.’

Read: What does phase on mean
 

The boss confirmed he has had conversations with players about any fears they may have over returning to training.

‘One of the things for me as a manager that I’ve learnt in this two-month period is that communication is so key,’ he explained. ‘When we went into isolation we all felt like we went into this crazy bubble that we’re not used to. Me sending messages to the players and asking how they felt was so important.

‘I didn’t want to bombard them so they were bored of me but I did want them to know that I’m here. As the talk of restarting came it was an important conversation that we had collectively. Everybody is different and we’ve seen that with the reaction of players and that has to be respected in all ways. We work every day as a family and a team and we’ll respect everyone and how they feel about the restart and coming back to work.’
 

Lampard revealed the Premier League managers had a meeting last week and the appetite to finish the current season was clear.

‘All of us here want to work,’ he said. ’It’s our job and we’re very fortunate to have this job, to play football and we want to finish it.

‘When we see so many things in the country and the world, much more important things than football happening, I think that’s been a bit of a reset for all of us but what remains is we want to play football. We want to finish this season but the most important thing is when it’s safe and healthy for players and staff. Fans won’t be coming but will it change things in society, the policing, the NHS, all these things need to come together and hopefully we can get our game back.’

Frank Lampard on playing behind-closed-doors

There is already one of the major leagues in Europe back up and running so everyone is looking at Germany at the moment, with the Bundesliga resuming last weekend with behind-closed-door matches.

‘It’s certainly proper football,’ reckons Lampard. ‘There are clear things that are going to be affected, you may not get to the level of what we get with crowds because that’s why the Premier League is for me the best in the world, because our home fans drive us on and that’s why home advantage is so important but when you go away, that hostility and tribalism sometimes drives you on as well. It’s a beautiful thing.

‘Of course it’s football [the behind-closed-door games]. There will be things that are different and I’ll have to speak to the players about that but when there’s three points and when you’re playing for your team and you want to get somewhere in the league, then of course the focus is there.’

Frank Lampard on mental health

Moving on to the subject of mental health, especially at this difficult time for everybody, Lampard admitted it was a subject rarely discussed in football during his playing days.

‘We were stuck in the Stone Age in many ways. I was certainly at fault for it, now I look back I wish there was a bit more maturity.

‘Personally, I grew up in a family where it was kind of seen that’s the way it is, that you don’t give away too much emotion. You keep things to yourself, you maybe don’t engage too much together in an emotional kind of way.

Read: Chelsea launch activity for Mental Health Awareness Week
 

‘I think opening up, talking about other people’s experiences is the only way to start approaching it. It’s important and it’s something we are all much more aware of now, and there’s probably a lot more to do.

‘I was fortunate enough to be invited by Prince William to be involved in the Heads Up campaign. The work he’s done and how he handles himself is incredible. I actually went to watch an England match in a pub - when we were allowed to go to pubs - a while ago with [former player] Matt Jansen as well and it was the first time I got involved in the campaign. I was blown away by how much it means to him, how much he puts people at ease, and it was a real pleasure to be involved in the documentary.

‘It’s probably society as well, not just football that’s moved a long way [on mental health matters]. I certainly remember my early days in the dressing room at a training ground and even growing up, I certainly had this thing where I didn’t want to give away my feelings too much.

‘I was never too open or free to want to speak, whether that was just me personally or whether that was the environment of football, we’ve slowly broken down those barriers. Some naturally, but we did more and when someone like Prince William gets involved and the amount of exposure it’s had, those things are great to get people talking because particularly as men we’re notoriously not great at that. That’s pretty proven so if we can do that via football then that’s a great thing.’

When it comes to the way managers and coaches communicate with their players, Lampard believes the new realisation over mental health issues has had an effect.

‘Without a doubt and obviously in a very good way. It might have been the culture at the time but that doesn’t make it right or mean that players were taking it in the right way. A lot of players will have suffered with that stuff, we’ve heard recently people like Luke Chadwick talking, many a sportsperson will have their moments where they say that, so I think we’re opening our eyes to all of that, particularly in the role I have now where I’m working with players and there’s such a spectrum of players - younger players, older players in different situations, you have to be very open and supportive.

‘Sometimes it’s communication but sometimes it’s just giving the players the feeling they can come to me if they want to.’


Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health, airs on Thursday at 8.05pm on BBC One.

The new documentary explores men’s mental health through the lens of football, following Prince William’s #HeadsUp campaign, and features our manager Frank Lampard who reflects on attitudes to mental health during his playing career.


 

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