Being Frank has never been so hard

The Chelsea midfielder has endured an awful year off the pitch but he tells Glenn Moore how the heartache has inspired him to produce his best form

In many ways this has been a season to forget for Frank Lampard. He went into it without the support of his mother, Pat, to whom he was very close prior to her death in April 2008. He also suffered the break-up of his relationship to Elen Rives, mother of his two young daughters. The pain of that was revealed last month when he rang a radio station to excoriate the presenter for calling him "weak" and "scum" following a tabloid newspaper story that alleged he was not adequately accommodating his children.

Lampard vehemently denied this and explained that while Rives was living in a flat while he bought a house for her, they shared custody. "I wake up if my kids wake up at three in the morning, if they wake up at six in the morning, regardless of whether there is a football match or not," Lampard says. He adds, of the days they stay with their mother: "The hardest part of this break-up is not waking up with my kids every day."

There has been instability in his working life, too. Chelsea have stumbled from manager to manager, drifted off the pace in the Premier League and followed the penalty shoot-out defeat in last season's Champions League final with a controversial exit in this season's semi-finals.

Yet, through all this turmoil, on and off the pitch, and despite the 3am wake-up calls, Lampard has performed superbly. For Chelsea he has scored 19 goals and made another 16. He has also returned to form for England. Indeed, he has played better than when he was voted Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year in 2005.

Lampard feels so. "Running out, I feel on top of my game," he says. "I'm 30 years of age and the experience I have gained makes me feel a better player than at any time in my career."

Wider recognition has, though, eluded him because of Chelsea's stuttering season. "I got the Chelsea Player of the Year, which I am always proud to get from the people who watch week-in week-out," he says. "Maybe the acclaim has not been there but quite rightly this season Manchester United players have dominated. That's fair, there have been some great performances from them. All I have done is try and play as well as I can."

He adds, in reference to the season's difficult personal context: "One of the fortunate things of being a player is that the adrenalin of going out and playing football is like the get-out sometimes from a lot of things outside. I get an adrenalin rush out of training as well as playing, so this season has been great for me in those terms even though we haven't won anything."

That qualifying clause could be made obsolete tomorrow afternoon. The FA Cup may no longer be as significant to Chelsea as when they won it in 1970 or 1997, but, says Lampard: "FA Cup final days have always been special. I know people get focused in other directions but once you get this far, and you are playing at Wembley, with the huge occasion that it is, not only for your own fans but worldwide, it will always be a massive event.

"It's very important to win. In recent years success has been something expected here, rightly so with the investment in the squad and the players we've got. So it's very important for confidence, for the club and the fans, to take something away from this season. Then we can re-evaluate in the summer and look to go full steam ahead next season.

"Going two years without a trophy is hard when you know how special winning is, but as you become older you realise you are not going to win everything. Standing on the Wembley pitch knowing we were not going to the Euros [with England], losing on penalties to Man United [in the Champions League final last year], they are horrible occasions in sport. They stick in the back of your mind. But you have to use them as a positive and I think we all do that now. It can make it a bit sweeter if you have lost things. Hopefully one day when we lift the Champions League the feeling will be that bit more special."