It has been a testing time for Frank Lampard, which the Chelsea and England midfielder has come through with flying blue colours. The death of his mother 13 months ago caused him to reassess his life and career and might even have prompted a move to link up again with Jose Mourinho in Italy. Then his partner of seven years, Elen Rives – they have two young children – ended the relationship, giving celebrity magazines a field day and bringing a crass outburst from a radio shock-jock that prompted Lampard to phone in and put him straight.
Amid all this, his standard of performance has remained so high that last Thursday he became the first player to be named the club's Player of the Year for a third time. Yet those standards mean he will have the hump all summer if Chelsea fail to win the FA Cup on Saturday, thereby completing a second successive season without a trophy.
Whatever the outcome, supporters have cause for gratitude that Lampard resisted the notion of a move from London in the wake of his mother's death. "It was a difficult patch of my life where I didn't know what to do," he said. "You have moments in your life when you make a decision like 'do I carry on and stay with people who've done well by me?' I made that decision and I knew soon after I had made it that it was the right one."
As for the bereavement: "It's made me focus even more on my football. It happens with a lot of people when things happen outside of football that when you come on a football pitch you remain very focused. I've taken a lot of strength when I go on the pitch this year just in memory of my mum so that helps me anyway." His goal celebration in her honour has been performed as regularly as ever; one more either at Sunderland today or at Wembley would make 20 for the fourth successive season.
The FA Cup has meant a lot to the Lampard family since Frank Snr scored West Ham's winning goal in the 1980 semi-final against Saturday's opponents Everton – followed by a rather embarrassing celebration involving the corner-flag – then went on to win the final against Arsenal with the Second Division underdogs.
"It spurred me on," admits his son, who earned his own winners' medal against Manchester United two years ago. Last May he experienced that old Cup magic from a different perspective, sitting among the victorious Portsmouth fans as his uncle, Harry Redknapp, finally won a major trophy. "It's still a fantastic day and it was good sitting among the Portsmouth fans and really feeling it. Sometimes when you're on the pitch you don't quite get the enormity of it. I remember growing up with the FA Cup final as a focal point of the season. I don't think it is that anymore, but that's not to take too much away from it."
For the big four nobody pretends that the old pot rates as highly these days as the Premier League or Champions League, but having lost out on both of those Chelsea are desperate to finish with a flourish in Guus Hiddink's last game. "It's very important that we have some silverware every year since [Roman] Abramovich has come," Lampard added. "A season without now is seen as failure and that's probably pretty much right when you look at the quality of the squad. In the League we dropped too many silly points, but the Barcelona [Champions League] game sticks in the throat because of the circumstances and the way we played."
Two years ago in the Cup final, Chelsea played the blue meanies at Mourinho's insistence, keeping things tighter than tight and breaking out to win with Didier Drogba's goal right at the end of extra-time after playing a one-two with Lampard.
On Saturday Everton will be cast in that role, right down to their blue shirts. This season they have already frustrated Chelsea twice with goalless draws, winning what sounds like genuine respect from Lampard: "It's a fantastic club with a great tradition and the work ethic and quality of the players and the manager. Tim Cahill is a fantastic player. He's a huge threat, not just in the air, although he's one of the best headers in the Premier League, but his all-round play and the way he works. He's gonna be a major threat as he tends to score in big games as well."
Whichever of those two goalscoring midfielders performs the better could decide the game. But after the year he has had, even those up and down the country who once derided "big fat Frank" might be less begrudging than usual if he comes out on top.
Probable teams: Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Ballack; Essien, Lampard; Anelka, Drogba, Malouda.
Everton (4-1-3-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Lescott, Yobo, Baines; Neville; Osman, Cahill, Pienaar; Fellaini; Saha.Reuse content