I’d like to take this opportunity to ask some readers what it is, exactly, that they hate about Frank Lampard. Try and restrain yourself. Just one thing will do.
Could it be the badge-kissing? Perhaps it’s his erstwhile apathy for England while still banging them in for Chelsea? Flirtation with Mourinho? Jaw-dropping salary? Ability to form a coherent sentence when interviewed? Decisions, decisions.
Fortunately for this observer, the man has once again demonstrated why he is one of Europe’s pre-eminent midfielders with a man of the match display against newly-wealthy Manchester City. Apparently, he was asked to give the MotM champagne to his artist counterpart in the Chelsea midfield, Deco. The diminutive Portuguese was neat and effective throughout but should have had the humility to hand the bottle straight back.
Lampard, much like his pundit cousin Jamie Redknapp, is almost media-perfect. Privately educated, relaxed in front of a camera, and capable – unlike so many of his peers – of choosing his words carefully. Alright, so in this last respect Redknapp falls rather short. If you were to envisage a career for Lampard at the end of the mega-contract that seems to be a lynchpin reason for the opprobrium he attracts, then punditry would seem an obvious choice. Whereas Terry seems destined for the tracksuit and furrowed brow of the touchline manager, Lampard probably already has his order in at Anderson and Sheppard for the studio suit. Perhaps it is his polished demeanour and quiet manner that gets under the opposition fan’s skin. After all, Wayne Rooney’s continued impotence for England, Croatia game notwithstanding, is comparable to Lampard’s, yet the pensioner-loving Scouser incites a fraction of the bile that Chelsea’s Essex boy does.
Against City, he made yet another mockery of the suggestion that his game is limited solely to goals. Positioned further forward than for Capello’s England, he showed a delicacy of touch and vision of passing to rival even a maestro like Deco, but added to it the dynamism of strong running and an energy when searching for the ball that is not part of the Portuguese’s game. Perhaps it’s because he can look slightly ungainly when in full flight: his neat side-step in the area that opened the space for his beautifully-taken goal was as slick and opportunistic as anything the top flight has shown so far this season. Laughable though the epithet “Fat Frank” might be, he’s no Ronaldo-sized stripling and he jinks rather than glides.
With Essien missing for months, Ballack’s return still uncertain and a long, long campaign to go, Lampard’s continued form and fitness is of paramount importance to Chelsea, just as it has been for the last 5 years. What he also showed last week was that he could be even more important to an England side that struggle to achieve Chelsea’s imagination and penetration. Steven Gerrard may be returning to full fitness but he has already demonstrated that he cares less for his national side than he does for another campaign of under-achievement under Benitez, through the simple expedient of scheduling his operation to coincide with crucial World Cup qualifiers. The Liverpool midfielder’s game isn’t all about goals, but when his leadership is cited as a key factor and he captains England to elimination from Euro 2008 in the real captain’s absence, surely a pivotal reason for him being on the pitch is removed? Capello must surely have learned that it’s one or the other, with Barry balancing the midfield. A year ago, Gerrard would have been the obvious first choice. Now, the answer’s not as clear.