When Frank Lampard signed for Chelsea, on this day in 2001, he was viewed as one of the top prospects in the English game.
A few days short of his 23rd birthday, he was already an England international with almost 150 Premier League appearances to his name, but Lampard was still spoken about in terms of potential.
In the years that followed, the all-action midfielder went from strength to strength, establishing himself as one of the best players in the Premier League, winning 11 major trophies, and eventually breaking the all-time Chelsea scoring record with 211 goals. His career is probably the finest example you could give of a player that made the most of their natural ability, through hard work, smart decision-making and shrewd improvements to his game.
One quote in particular marks out for the man we know him to be: 'I developed a mental attitude that helped me to reach the next level, because you can’t do that without believing you’re capable of it and being determined to achieve it.'
Looking back at his arrival at Chelsea, Lampard freely admits he noticed the step-up in standard during his early training sessions, and has spoken of the motivation that awakening gave him as he sought to make it to the very top of the game.
'Looking back, I came here quite naïve. I was 22 when I came and I used to run forward quite a lot and not get involved so much in the build up of play,' he said in an interview with the Chelsea matchday programme in 2011 after making his 500th appearance for the club.
'At West Ham I was used to a style that was a bit more direct, whereas Chelsea had much more of a possession game. I had to come to terms with that, take more responsibility for getting on the ball and gradually I did that, to the point where I’d added a lot more goals to my game by the end of my second season. So I added an element to my game and that was a big change in my career.'
It’s a theme he has returned to time and time again when reflecting on the giant strides he took after arriving at Stamford Bridge, pointing to the passing ability of the players around him as the most striking example.
'I’ll never forget coming to Chelsea and realising how much better I needed to be in possession. That was the main thing I noticed when I came and trained with players like Jody Morris and Emmanuel Petit – the level of player you had to be in possession.
'I think it’s always been like that with Chelsea to an extent. It was one of the things that impressed me about Chelsea before I came. I remember watching us play with Zola, Jody and Robbie Di Matteo in the team, and they were knocking it about. Chelsea were one of the first teams to play that kind of football in the Premier League, under [Ruud] Gullit and [Gianluca] Vialli. I think we’ve always maintained that.'
Beyond pure technique, much of Lampard’s progress as an attacking midfielder was about fine-tuning his runs off the ball, and working out when to make those bursts into the opposition box to time his arrival perfectly. He eventually got it down to a fine art, but not after experimenting as a young player. It’s often forgotten that he was often used as a wide midfielder in his first season here, due to his bustling energy.
'I’ve seen a few games from my first season on Chelsea TV and that was a difficult year for me because I did get moved about a bit and, certainly at that stage in my career, I wasn’t going to pull up trees at left or right midfield,' he said in that 2011 interview. 'I’d just come in to the club and I’d always played central before.
'But I was still fairly young, it was a big deal mentally for me to come here and it was a step up as well. So I think it was normal for me to have a transitional year or two and I got to grips with that quite quickly. In my second year I took more responsibility upon myself, when I stayed central and made the position my own a bit more.
'I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my managers down the years for that, starting with Claudio Ranieri. He was the one who stopped me just coming forward willy-nilly and told me to be more selective and that was probably the first big lesson I got taught after coming here.
'He would just have a word, sometimes in training but more often before and after games, and tell me not to run forward so much, to make myself harder to pick up by only running occasionally and being selective.
'I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with me becoming more involved in build-up play as well because I stopped bombing on all the time. If you came to Chelsea and just ran forward all the time from midfield, you wouldn’t be contributing enough to the team. Look at Gus Poyet before me, he scored a lot of goals for the team but I could always see that he was involved in the build-up as well.'
The stats reflect Lampard’s rapid progress as a Chelsea player. After scoring seven and eight goals respectively in his first two seasons as a Blue, he notched 15 in 2003/04, Ranieri’s last season as manager, before hitting new heights in Jose Mourinho’s preferred 4-3-3 system as we won back-to-back league titles in the middle of the decade.
Lampard was named FWA Footballer of the Year and finished second in the Ballon d’Or vote in 2005, the first of five consecutive years in which he finished the season with 20 club goals to his name. The young midfield signing with bags of potential had developed into one of the world’s top players – precisely what he’d dreamed of achieving when he chose to join Chelsea.