The couple of times that I’ve been in the Stamford Bridge press suite, it’s always been a hive of activity. There’s that faint odour of embittered journalist in the air, mingling with the instant coffee. Although it’s all mod-cons, with laptop ports cluttered along the walls, the low ceiling makes you feel a bit hobbit-like… I kept looking over my shoulder for Ian McKellen in a pointy hat.
Yesterday, the buzz was low-key. With the players doing an open training session at the Bridge and hordes of fans queuing to get their photos taken with their idols, the actual press was less in evidence than I’d expected. Clearly, the Bridge PR machine has been fearsomely efficient in staggering the interview requests so as not to overwhelm the players. I’m waiting in a pool of expectant hacks that includes Nuts magazine, with the reporter wearing a Nuts t-shirt with what appears to be a straight face, a couple of lads from Blue and White Army, a suspiciously friendly Dutch bloke from Eurosport, and the BBC.
Joe Cole pitches in first in tracksuit and trainers and shambles over to the BAWA boys. A few minutes later, Frank wanders in and, after doing his 10 minutes with Nuts, is introduced to me.
The first thing that strikes you is his size: he’s not Cech tall, but you can tell where all the hours in the gym went. Half an hour earlier, I’d sneaked out for a crafty smoke and, while talking on the phone, Tiago and Ric Carvalho walked past me on their way out. Both seemed about my size: pretty skinny, if I’m honest. Frank, by contrast, seems almost larger than life. His holiday tan is also making me acutely aware of how pasty I look. I’ve been asked to keep it to 10 minutes – double training session tomorrow, apparently – so after the hellos we launch straight into it.
RH: The questions I’ve got are all from our readers, Frank… no particular order, so sorry if it seems a bit disjointed. I’ve got some about football, some more personal.
RH: What are the main differences between José and Claudio, and how do you think we would have done as a team if Claudio had stayed?
FL: Training’s completely different now. It used to be a lot of running and work without the ball. Now it’s all with the ball, which any player loves. His style is different, obviously… he’s cooler. He doesn’t give you a hard time. Ranieri would get quite loud, quite vocal, and he (José) can do that too, but he’s more to the point. Rather than standing there shouting, he’ll sit down and at half time he’ll stand up and say his bit.
I don’t know how we would have done with Ranieri, it’s a hard question to answer, but I think we have moved on since we changed manager. I don’t know if we’d have been as dominant as we were last season. The new things, the new ideas the manager brought in… everyone took them on board so well. He is special.
RH: Player you’d most like to see at the club in the future? You can’t say Stevie G!
FL (laughs): Yep, that’s all done with now. (muses for a bit). If I could have anyone in the world, it would be Ronaldinho. He’s fantastic, I love watching him. He’s a player the players love to watch. He can create, like he created here, out of nothing. If I had the choice of anyone in the world, I’d probably pick him.
RH: It was a real privilege to see him score that goal at the Bridge… even better that we put them out as well!
FL: Yeah exactly.
RH: What about expectations? It must be tough… we think you’re the best in the League, I’ve been looking at the Dream Teams for the new season and you’re the most expensive midfielder in all of them. How does that feel?
FL: Yeah it is. You have to use it in a positive way I think. I’ve got a lot of expectancy on myself, so every year… I never relax on the year before. Every year I want to get more out of myself so I use it as a driving force, rather than a pressure thing.
RH: Might be quite an easy one, this: individual who’s had the biggest effect on your career?
FL: My dad… I’d like to say my mum and dad, actually. My dad’s had a big effect on the football side and my mum’s had a big effect on me as a person. Just family, really. I’m lucky, I come from a football family which has really helped.
RH: Everyone’s going to want to know the answer to this. Are you going to stay with us and finish your career here?
FL: (laughs) Yeah that’s my aim. I’m really happy here. I think anyone who knows me well, and the fans too I hope, they know that I love the area, and the bond that I’ve had with the fans has been fantastic. More than I could ever imagine when I first came here. I came here basically as a West Ham boy, and I’ll leave here as a Chelsea fan for life.
RH: We’re pleased to hear it. OK, last football one then I’ll try and get in some more personal ones if we’ve got time. One of our readers tells us that his 5-year-old son wants to be a footballer and you’re his favourite player. How did you get into professional footie and how hard was it for a club to take you on?
FL: It’s difficult. There’s so many kids out there and it’s such a cut-throat world. I’ve seen a lot of my mates, you know, who were better players than me at a certain age, and they’re not in football now. I think as far as kids go, you just have to work hard. Work on your skills, keep focused. I can’t stress the importance of working hard enough, work on all aspects of your game. If you does that and you have the ability, you’ll come through.
RH: OK, a couple of personal ones and then I’ll let you go before the BBC steals you. Is it true you’re learning Spanish so your kids will be bilingual?
FL: That is true. I learnt for a while and then I stopped, and now I’m picking it up again. I practice with the Spanish lads and with my missus indoors. I do want my girl to be bilingual, and Ellen wants her to speak Spanish and be in touch with those roots. Living in London, English will come very easy for her but we do want to make sure that she keeps up with the Spanish.
RH: Have you ever fancied playing for Barcelona?
FL: No, not really. They’re a great club, Barcelona are my favourite team in Spain, let’s put it that way… the history and the players, you know, when you’re growing up there’s always a team abroad that you like and I always liked Barcelona, but no. I’m happy here, and why change when you love the club and the club’s in a really good position right now.
RH: OK. Robbie and Kezman and your trousers. What’s the story? Is that true?
FL: Yeah, they cut my pants.
RH: Your keks, not your trousers?
FL: Yeah my pants, I think it was in Moscow last year and I got changed for training the day before we played Moscow, but the fact is they actually wanted to do John’s, me and John were next to each other and they did mine by mistake. John had done them I think. So yeah it is true.
RH: Nice one. OK, last one, do you support West Ham when they’re not playing Chelsea?
FL: (Laughs) I don’t actually, no. I get asked that a lot and I really don’t. A lot of things happened when I left there, and to be fair they treated me really bad, and now I have to play against them so I don’t have any feelings for them at all.
RH: Unlucky with the penalty last season but we’re hoping you get one this time round.
FL : I’d love to score against them, yeah. When you take a lot of stick you want to ram it down people’s throats.
RH: Frank, thanks a lot for your time and we’re all wishing you the best for the new season.
FL: Anytime, no problem.
So there we go. To quote Tim Nice But Dim, bloody nice bloke. All of us at CFCnet would like to thank Frank, Pippa from the Chelsea press office, and you guys for sending in your questions. I’m just sorry we couldn’t fit everyone’s in but, as you can imagine, we had hundreds to choose from and only a limited amount of time. With any luck, Pippa will have us back some time soon to bother another player, so we’ll let you know if and when.
Bring on the season.