Frank Lampard: Riding out the tough times

After the disappointment of the World Cup and recent setbacks at Chelsea, Frank Lampard is confident he and his team will find the best response at Anfield today. Sam Wallace reports
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The Independent Football

Frank Lampard stops and checks himself the first time he is asked and then, after a moment's consideration, he decides that he wants to say his piece. The main man in Chelsea's midfield has put up with a lot over the last eight months and this time he will have his say. We are on the subject of Joey Barton.

Barton had some strong views on England's performance during the World Cup finals. He was equally forthright on his own case for a place in the England squad and the hunger that he believes he has to get there. But none of that came close to his attack on the autobiographies written by players, including Lampard, in the wake of the tournament.

To put it in Barton's words the players' books were, among other things, "bullshit". He made much of his own self-imposed gruelling training sessions while on holiday in the summer and asked whether Lampard was doing the same. The man in question wearily takes a deep breath, weighs his words and offers his side of the story. "I don't think Joey Barton should talk about me and Steven Gerrard," Lampard says. "That probably says enough. We're professionals who have worked hard. I'll say one thing. I read that Joey said he was in Dubai running at six in the morning and that he was wondering if me and Stevie G were doing the same. When I read that, I was thinking 'I was doing that when I was 11 years old.' That was the difference. I've always trained my socks off. So I don't think he should speak about us too much. The training is what you do. Maybe Joey Barton has found that out. I've been doing it for a long time."

He stops himself there, other than to mention that Owen Hargreaves fought for a long time to get into the England team and could have "said many things". "Instead, he kept his head down," Lampard says, "and went about it completely the right way". Of all the twists and turns of Chelsea's season, of the aftermath of the World Cup finals and Liverpool today at Anfield, the last thing Lampard wants is to spend the afternoon talking about Barton.

Lampard was talking on behalf of his new role as an ambassador for Chelsea's global charity partner, Right To Play, which helps disadvantaged children all over the world through sport - part of the club's corporate social responsibility. Lampard is a father himself now and he takes it seriously. "It's a job we love but there's also a lot we can put back to make a difference. It sounds corny but a lot of players at Chelsea, and me personally, have realised that. The club is making big strides to do that."

Softening Chelsea's image. It sounds a more difficult task than closing the six-point gap on Manchester United at the top of the Premiership. The last month has been extraordinary even by the standards of Stamford Bridge. Six points dropped over Christmas in three draws. John Terry among the many injured. Andrei Shevchenko's form. And to top it all, a manager who seems increasingly at odds with Roman Abramovich and a board who will not sanction his transfer requests.

In all that, it would easy to miss the fact that Lampard, as a temporary captain, has done as much as anyone to drag his team through the darker times and he has 13 goals already this season. He knows the tough questions are coming about Mourinho and his relationship with the club. This is the manager who Lampard says has changed him as a player, "made me want to be in a position where I would get voted second best player in the world; I had to take that step up and he helped me do that."

So how is he now? "Jose is fine," Lampard says. "There's never been a moment I've worked under him in training or matches where I've seen anything different. That's what he is. He's a professional and a winner. At the moment we're in position in all competitions - six points behind the leaders - and we haven't got time as players to start wondering what the papers say every day about what is going on above.

"That's the only way I can answer it. I'm not going to start getting into an answer where you want to put me into this camp or that one. As footballers it is not important for us, especially at this moment, to talk about that. The important thing is to prepare for Liverpool and ahead."

Lampard is better placed than anyone to discuss the great conundrums at the heart of Chelsea. On Shevchenko he is instinctively defensive, he says that he and his partner, Elen, have become friends with the £31m striker and his wife, Kristen. "There's certainly nothing in the idea of Sheva being an outcast or a potential grass to upstairs," he says. "It's ridiculous. No one sees him as anything like that.

"It hasn't been quite right for him, but the man's there and he hasn't opened his mouth and said a million things. He's working as hard as he can to put things right. I respect him for that."

He does not agree that it is the way that Chelsea play that is stopping Shevchenko from scoring; the supply is there, he says, as demonstrated by Didier Drogba's fruitful season. Instead, Lampard feels it may be as simple as a foreign player adapting to the Premiership in his first season.

On Michael Ballack, who has also not lived up to the billing, Lampard is circumspect. He is sure that they can play together in the midfield, that their "movement is different" - "the manager said there was no reason why we should be stepping on each others' toes". And then there is Lampard himself. The darling of English football since Euro 2004 and then, one World Cup finals and a missed penalty later, facing a very different public.

He talks knowingly about "two of three fantastic years with the media" that he says he knew would not last forever. Although the legacy of the team's failure to impress in Germany last summer still has an effect. At Villa Park in January he was accused in a chant by the home fans of "letting his country down". "Hurt? Because I've 'let my country down'? Come on, it's football we're talking about. The moment it hurt me it would affect me and it shouldn't do that. I didn't let my country down. It's as simple as that. The World Cup is very high profile and football fans will pick up on the slightest of things."

Does he still think about the penalty against Portugal? "It comes back occasionally, particularly when I've put the ball down every time this season to take one. I try not to think about it." This is after all Chelsea, where it can be easy to look on the bleak side when the glass is half full. Six points off the top and a good chance to close the gap today, they have done their best this week to show they are a bit more than a match-winning machine.

"You come into our dressing room, you'll see the reality," Lampard says. "It's a bunch of lads who work extremely hard every day on the training ground and want to be winners."

Chelsea's new Global Charity Partner is Right To Play. For more information on Right To Play please go to www.righttoplay.com

Blue against Reds: Frank's goal drought

* LAMPARD v LIVERPOOL

Frank Lampard may be England's most prolific goalscoring midfielder with 82 goals in 283 Chelsea appearances but against Liverpool he has only scored once in 18 games, a penalty in the 4-1 victory at Anfield in 2005. His Liverpool counterpart, Steven Gerrard, has done little better, with just two goals in 16 matches against Chelsea.

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