Frank Lampard: Heart of England and the soul of Roman's family

Close relationships are vital to the Stamford Bridge stalwart - from parent to millionaire club owner. Nick Townsend hears why
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The Independent Online

Chelsea Harbour. The chic end of a posh neighbourhood, packed with floating gin palaces in what is a millionaire's parking compound. On Thursday morning, though, they were launching not a new boat, but the latest of the post-World Cup footballer reads.

Within Frank Lampard's memoirs, two photographs particularly catch your eye. One shows the Chelsea and England midfielder on board his boss Roman Abramovich's yacht Sussuro, £40 million of elegance, together with his father, Frank Snr, mother, Pat, and wife, Elen. "Not bad for a boy from Romford," his caption reads.

A moment he will long remember. It could not have been in the most hellish recesses of his imagination that, a year later, there would be a late addition to the book, a photograph of the Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo denying him from the penalty spot in the World Cup quarter-final shoot-out at Gelsenkirchen, a split second that he can only describe as "a moment I would rather forget".

With many other performers, there would have been the suspicion that the penalty miss, which exemplified an insipid World Cup experience for him in which none of his 23 efforts on goal saw a return, might have diminished him - worst of all, in his own mind - both at international and club level. Particularly in the knowledge that, back at Chelsea, a certain Michael Ballack had arrived. A valuable new playing partner, or a rival with whom to contend?

It says everything about Lampard's fortitude that he responded to the media slights about his performances in Germany with a typical riposte on Wednesday night in the 4-0 triumph over Greece. He scored, albeit a little fortuitously, and was involved in two other goals.

It was a performance that received this accolade from England's new coach, Steve McClaren: "The performance has lifted Frank. That was the Frank we know. He is back to his best. As long as he continues like that, it will benefit Chelsea and England."

It means that the following morning Lampard, who a month ago, might have been defending his right to an England place, is asked to broach, at the age of 28, the subject of the conceivable length of his England career. It was his 46th cap on Wednesday.

He is asked how great is his desire to become the most capped player of all time, or at least to approach the records, all of more than 100, of Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright. "I think I am too old," Lampard protests, with a smile. "I would need to be going on until I was 40..."

He adds: "No, I would love to be up there with those people who get towards 100, if not 100. Unfortunately, I didn't start playing regularly for England until I was 23, 24. But I'm hungry to earn as many caps as I can. Who knows when that will end?"

Certainly no time soon. Not now that he and Steven Gerrard are more in accord because of the presence of Owen Hargreaves. We will soon learn whether Lampard and Ballack will similarly complement each other, though probably not when Manchester City visit Stamford Bridge today as Ballack's hip injury may postpone his Premiership debut. For the moment, Lampard is swift to decry any contention that he and the German playmaker would be rivals as goal-poaching midfielder.

"I have enjoyed the opening glimpses of what we can do together. And we can only get better," says Lampard. "He's a very intelligent footballer. He doesn't hang on to the ball for too long for the sake of it, and moves the ball quickly. He looks for you in the right positions and takes up good positions."

He adds: "The only thing it may affect slightly is that last season I was top scorer. I'm not saying I had free rein to get in the box. At times, I didn't. Now Michael is a goalscoring midfielder, and he will want to get in there too. It may mean that I don't score quite so many goals. I hope that's not the case. But in terms of us playing together, I don't see a problem at all."

However, he concedes that competition will be even greater this season. That will almost certainly have an impact on Chelsea's top scorer last season, when he also established a new record of consecutive club League appearances. "You could be rested," he says. "In the modern day, if we want to win every competition - and I'm not saying we will - that would be 70-odd games, and you'd have to be quite superhuman to play 90 minutes in every one.

"But in terms of being dropped, that could also happen, because we've got such a strong squad that if your levels drop you can be out of the team. Maybe it becomes even more competitive the more quality the team has and, on paper, this year we've got as much quality, if not more, than before."

He adds: "In the last two years, we've had lots of people who aren't playing sometimes, and, of course, they're not happy. They shouldn't be happy. But we have always kept everyone in the family. It's never affected us on the pitch, or around the dressing room."

Inevitably, the import of Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko has invited comment that Chelsea could suffer from the galactico culture which afflicted Real Madrid. "I just don't think that we would let that happen," maintains Lampard. "Not with the people we have at the club, the manager, for starters, and the players, starting with me and John [Terry].

"Yes, we've signed what people might call stars and when you look at what they've done in their careers, they are, but the way they've settled, for sure, they're not superstar personalities. They've fitted straight into our ways. I think you can read too much into calling them stars, and then pointing towards a galactico direction. We have to keep our unity, our spirit and our togetherness."

Back to "The Family" again. It's a recurring theme of his existence. The photograph taken on Abramovich's boat in the summer of 2005 epitomises the importance of family to him, in the broadest sense: the father and mother who have advised, cajoled and counselled him; and the Chelsea owner who regards him as one of his own.

Lampard reflects in his autobiography: "Roman has made me feel that I am more than a well-paid and valued employee. He sees Chelsea as his family, and John [Terry] and I are senior members of it. I am not just his No 8: to Roman I am part of the Chelsea DNA."

Now, that observation may admittedly be greeted with some cynicism, suggesting as it does that the question which provoked that answer may have been a variation of Mrs Merton's famous enquiry of Debbie McGee. So, Frank, what is it that particularly attracts you about your billionaire employer, Roman Abramovich...?

Nevertheless, Lampard's is undoubtedly an inspirational tale. This was a player who was not blessed with extravagant ball-playing talents, yet who ascended to stand on the same stage as Ronaldinho at the 2005 World Player of the Year awards. Indeed, he tells the story against himself of how he turned up at a shoot for a Pepsi commercial after Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry had already mesmerised everyone with their footwork. The director asked him to "Do what you do. You know. Your signature move." Lampard retorted: "I shoot. I tackle. I score goals from midfield."

Dedication, and devotion to improving every aspect of his game, together with the support of his family, have emboldened him to progress far further as an international footballer than many who witnessed his debut in 1999 under Kevin Keegan would have anticipated.

His parents have bolstered him through dark times, such as when he was involved in the "9/11 drinking incident" and the "tacky" episode when he and other players were videotaped with some girls in Ayia Napa, ignoring the golden rule that a footballer's private life can never be quite that.

He is contracted to Chelsea until he is 31, and has no plans to stray. "I have too much of a relationship with my team-mates, the fans, and what the club's done for me," he insists. "The good things that have happened to me since I've been at Chelsea... a lot have been down to me and what I have done and what I have worked hard to accomplish. But I feel like I am part of the family now. There will always be a big place in my heart for Chelsea."

In truth, the likelihood of more honours offers as much insurance of faithfulness as a chastity belt. "We have a great opportunity," Lampard agrees. "It's up to us to go and grab it. The opportunity will hopefully be there for the coming years."

But wouldn't it be preferable for the good of English football if the the title race was more competitive this time? "It might be - for English football," Lampard retorts. "You can see it being tighter, maybe, than it was the first year we won it. I don't want that. You want to win it as comfortably as you can. But if we win it by one point, or 20 points, it doesn't make any difference in years to come."

And who can doubt Chelsea's intent when they have, at their nucleus, a character who espouses family values?

Life & Times

NAME: Frank James Lampard.

BORN: 20 June 1978, Romford, Essex.

VITAL STATS: 6ft, 13st 5lb.

POSITION: Midfielder.

CLUB CAREER: West Ham 1992-2001, 187 games, 39 goals - Intertoto Cup '99 (Swansea on loan '95, 11 games, League debut); Chelsea '01-current (£11m fee), 268 games, 69 goals - Premiership '05, '06; League Cup '05.

INTERNATIONAL CAREER: debut Oct '99; 41 caps, 11 goals.

HIGHLIGHTS: England Player of the Year '04, '05 voted for by fans; runner-up as Uefa and Fifa Player of the Year '05; Football Writers' Player of the Year '05. Record 164 consecutive Premiership games, 13 Oct '01 to 26 Nov '05.

'Totally Frank: The Autobiography', by Frank Lampard (HarperSport, £18.99)

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