James Lawton: Lampard's marriage of commitment and talent embodies Chelsea's raw ambition

This has to be a sad reflection because there was a little spell last season when it was reasonable to think that if anyone could take the poison out of the idea of an unknown oligarch annexing English football for a little corner of his empire, it was the "Special One".

He could make jokes, quite superior ones at times, he could even indulge in a little self-mockery, and the quality of his work leaped out from the pitch. But that was before he decided that it wasn't enough to compete with the best of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger; he also had to rival them at their worst.

Whatever conspiracy theory they came up with, he could match it and go beyond, even if it meant the cruel end to a referee's career.

Almost every utterance would be shaped by self-interest and self-regard. This has been going on for so long now it would scarcely warrant comment but for a savagely topical twist. At the weekend Mourinho declared that Frank Lampard was the world's best player. Did he remember - possibly not - that it wasn't so long ago Sir Alex was describing Rio Ferdinand as the world's best defender?

As things are going, as Lampard continues to define the extent of his brilliant professionalism and extraordinary will to succeed, Mourinho does not appear at grave risk of the need for reassessment that was implicit in the icy expression on the United manager's face when Ferdinand was withdrawn in the face of so much derision at Middlesbrough last Saturday night.

Robert De Niro, stealing a scene in GoodFellas couldn't have done it better than Ferguson. Was Rio heading for a date with an ice pick in the New Jersey marshes? However, Lampard the best player in the world? Is this not hubris on a flood tide? Is this not stoking up still more the fires of resistance?

Mourinho, you might say, is smart enough to know what he is doing. He wants all his players, and heaven knows he is not the first manager to have this desire, to feel as positive about themselves as possible, at least when they are behaving themselves according to his lights and not, like Ricardo Carvalho at the start of the season, throwing a fit because he has been left off the team-sheet. In those circumstances, no humiliation is apparently severe enough. But then Lampard is not Carvalho, and nor, as an ever-present first teamer under Mourinho, has he felt a breath of the fine Portuguese defender's frustration.

What Lampard is, is the most stunning example of concentrated ambition. He has employed every molecule of his considerable talent. However brightly the lights have shone upon him, he has resisted the glare superbly.

Last spring, when he accepted the Player of the Year award from the football writers, he gave a speech which was stunning in its rejection of so many of the attitudes that have disfigured the football fast lane. He also bared some of his soul as he went back to old jibes of some West Ham followers, who spat at him charges that he was the creation of family preferment, eased to stardom by the Upton Park management of his Uncle Harry (Redknapp) and his father, Frank. Young Frank said to his critics, in so many words, "Hey, take a look at me now". And who could not be impressed?

Recently a poll of Real Madrid fans, fed so relentlessly a galactico diet, voted for the player they would most like to arrive at the Bernabeu. Lampard came home, as well he might have done with an electorate which has yearned for so long to see the proper, disciplined marriage between talent and commitment which invariably yields the big prizes.

The Real fans were voting for something than runs a lot deeper than mere virtuosity. They were calling for a competitive passion which delivers, game in, game out.

They were yearning for the game-breaking knack that in club football Lampard has made his trademark and which, maybe significantly in a World Cup year, surfaced so encouragingly in England's last international against Poland.

Then, with Ledley King working so hard, Lampard was able to do what he does best, make his churning, irresistible runs into points of maximum opportunity. Lampard has few rivals in this lung-straining activity. Steven Gerrard, with whom he has such an uneasy relationship in the national team, is one. Germany's Michael Ballack is another.

But then, inevitably, it is not enough for Mourinho say that Lampard is among the best in his vital department of the game. Lampard is Chelsea, a reflection of Mourinho, and so the coach says, "I would not change Lampard for another player because he does everything. For me he is the best player in the world. How can he improve?"

That is a dangerous thing for any coach to say. How could Ferenc Puskas improve? The great Alfredo Di Stefano was always seeing ways, and he didn't stop telling him, quite often to near the point of fisticuffs.

However, no one ever suggested Lampard was a Puskas, or, for that matter a Ronaldinho or a Robinho or a young Zinedine Zidane. No, what Mourinho said was that Lampard was the best player in the world and it was a bald assertion even by his own standards.

The best player in the world generally arrives at that peak without special pleading. Pele did, so did Johan Cruyff and later Diego Maradona. George Best was allotted a special category. Zidane wore down those who argued that in the fiercest action he could be a shade peripheral. Winning a World Cup, a European Championship and a Champions' League rather helped his case. Now, through the prism of his own empire, and his own deeds, Mourinho announces that his player Lampard is without compare.

He has made many more outrageous statements and the merit of Lampard is so obvious that there is no desperate urge to make an argument. You just find yourself wishing that one day, Mourinho will see the value of achievement for its own sake and that the best of it is in no need of self-congratulation. It is a belief, after all, that is working beautifully for Frank Lampard.

Montgomerie's stunning comeback born in the Ryder Cup cauldron

In golf you are not supposed to come back. Ask Seve Ballesteros or Sandy Lyle or Tom Watson. You have your time, you take your chances, and then something tells you that it is over, if not completely, certainly in the sense that you never will again quite believe that everything is still before you.

Colin Montgomerie's winning of his eighth European Order of Merit after an often tortured, six-year hiatus, is not only a brilliant refutation of that bleak theory. It is also a magnificent testament to competitive courage that his worst critics suspected he did not have. Monty, some of us said, had a superb talent but the trouble was it was housed in too frail a temperament.

There were some sage nods when he seemed to be in free fall at Augusta the spring before last. His marriage was breaking apart bitterly, publicly. He was seen walking alone, disconsolately, a man lost in the ebbing of his best hopes. Augusta National slammed the door on him last spring. The Jakartagate controversy erupted. But at 42, and ravaged by an army of demons for so long, Montgomerie announced that he would continue to make a fight of it. He finished second in the Open, he marched on in Europe, and if some of his colleagues still rumble about Jakarta, even the most resentful of them would have to concede that from one of the lowest points ever inhabited by a major golfer, Montgomerie has fought like a champion. The view here is that the most vital turning point was on a fall day in Michigan last year, when Montgomerie, riding the usual jeers from the American gallery, went out to play Ryder Cup golf of a stunning quality.

He overshadowed everyone, including Tiger Woods. He happened to be winning for Europe, but then later, when he was embraced by all of his team-mates, you knew that he had maybe pulled off the greatest victory of his life. It is a theory that gains a little more credence each day.

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