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Butler: Lampard a Chelsea icon on- and off-pitch

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Noel Butler, TSN.ca
6/6/2014 9:02:48 PM
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“I can tell you here now: He will go right to the top, right to the very top. He's got everything that's needed to be a top midfield player. His attitude is first class, he's got strength, he can play, he can pass it and he can score goals,” prophesized Harry Redknapp.

It's fall 1996, a West Ham supporter's summit and a clearly agitated Redknapp had just been taken to task for selecting then-18-year old Frank Lampard ahead of other more experienced players.

Lampard had made his debut in West Ham's starting XI away to Arsenal just a few months earlier. Substituted in a losing cause, Lampard would feature in only 13 matches during that 1996-97 campaign.

It was a season in which he picked up more yellow cards than he scored goals. Redknapp knew full well even back then West Ham had unearthed a gem. So likely did his assistant coach and ex-teammate at West Ham, Frank Lampard Sr.

Playing in an era of outrageously inflated transfer prices Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri was astute back in the summer of 2001 to pay West Ham £11m [$20m CAD] to acquire Lampard's services.

"Hopefully I can test myself against the best players in Europe and we can contest for trophies,” Lampard was quoted as saying at the time.

Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, a Europa League and Champions League crown later, Lampard has decided his Chelsea playing days are now behind him and on his own terms.

Although still under contract until June 30, the club's all-time leading scorer (211 goals) made the announcement to coincide with England's arrival into Miami.

Lampard wants to be fully focused on what will be his third World Cup Finals.

Amassing close to 600 appearances, only two players have ever appeared more times in a Chelsea shirt. over the course of his 13 seasons Lampard is without exception one of Chelsea's greatest ever players.

Not wanting to name him their best ever, the tribute on the club's web site strongly implied Lampard was their best ever midfield player. It was Lampard who scored both goals in the game against Bolton in April 2005 which handed Chelsea their first title in exactly 50 years.

Breaking the club scoring record which had stood for over four decades towards the very end of the 2012-13 season Lampard's most important goal for the club occurred in the second leg of the 2008 Champions League semi-final in a game against arch-rivals Liverpool, which I was very privileged to attend.

Lampard was not even expected to play that day. He had recently missed a pair of Premier League games to be at the bedside of his gravely ill mother, who sadly passed away a few days after the first leg. Play though he did, the Chelsea players wore black arm bands in memory of Lampard's mother.

The tie was very delicately poised after the first leg at Anfield had finished 1-1. Chelsea with the away goal were slight favourites going in, but Liverpool had got the better of Chelsea twice at this stage in 2005 and 2007.

Didier Drogba opened the scoring, for Fernando Torres to level it just after the hour mark. Extra time loomed, it was a very highly charged Stamford Bridge.

Less than 10 minutes into extra time after Michael Ballack was bought down in the area Chelsea were awarded a penalty. Up stood Frank Lampard.

Hands on his hips, he stood at the edge of the box and waited for what must have seemed like an eternity as Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina did his best to delay and distract.

Lampard was having none of it.

The ref blew the whistle, and with that trademarked run up to the ball he sent Reina the wrong way as he slotted the ball into the far right corner. Lampard took off for the opposite corner flag, and took with him the hearts of the 40,000 plus Chelsea supporters inside Stamford Bridge.

As he got close to the corner flag he slowed down to remove his black arm band, then with his hands covering his face Lampard slumped to his knees. Joined by his teammates, there was no celebration when Lampard emerged with all emotion completely drained from his face.

On running back to the halfway line Lampard looked up in the direction of where his dad and other members of his family were gathered. He waved and blew a kiss to them. The match finished 3-2 and Chelsea were off to their first Champions League Final.

Away from the pitch Lampard is an all-too-rare breed when it comes to English footballers. Intelligent, staunchly working class, he attended a private high school where he was one of the more promising students. Not everyone aced Latin, Lampard did.

In 2009 Chelsea conducted IQ tests on the playing squad. Although the club did not officially reveal the results it was reported Lampard scored over 150. That places him in Bill Gates' territory.

In March this year Lampard launched the BPL's annual children's reading challenge held each season in conjunction with the National Literary Trust. Lampard disclosed his favorite book was a biography on U.S. President Abraham Lincoln... All 900 pages of it.

Lampard the family man was also to surface shortly after 2009's highly published break-up with his fiancée, Elen Rives the mother of his two children.

A London radio station talk show host openly criticized Lampard on the basis of a newspaper article which had quoted Rives. So incensed by the inaccuracy of the host's comments Lampard called in live to the show and put the record straight in a conversation which lasted 10 minutes.

I can't imagine there would be too many other BPL players who would take such initiative. Petra Cech referred to Lampard as one of the most influential players of all time in the Premier League. Make that on and off the pitch.

He'll be dearly missed at Chelsea.

When he met the press ahead of England's World Cup tune-up on Wednesday he said he would return to Stamford Bridge to attend matches. Lampard lives within walking distance to the ground. Abramovich has offered to keep a job open for him.

On June 20 Lampard will turn 36. Having already played Italy and Uruguay by then, England's fate in the group stage may already have been decided. Lampard will walk away from the international arena at the conclusion of England's World Cup.

Chelsea, and England's loss will be MLS' gain.

Noel Butler can be reached at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

Twitter: @TheSoccerNoel

TSN Radio is an official licensed radio broadcaster of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Action gets underway Thursday, June 12 with Brazil vs. Croatia. Kick Off is at 4pm et /1pm pt.

Frank Lampard (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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