Sporting a tan that even puts the deep copper of his Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho in the shade, Frank Lampard reveals that he followed his post-Euro 2004 holiday in Hawaii with a few days in Barcelona. "Steady Frank, you'll start a few rumours now," he is reminded. But Lampard, who has a Spanish girlfriend, Elen Rives, has no thoughts of the Nou Camp. Stamford Bridge, he believes, is where his - and every young, ambitious footballer's - future lies. He presents a convincing case.
"Clubs likes Real Madrid and Man Utd have been the benchmark for the last few years and we are trying to get up there with them," he says. "Hopefully the power we have, with the owner and a very exciting manager, means that as a player why would you want to go somewhere else?" Not so long ago he was prepared, if needs be, to leave. Earlier in the summer contract talks had stalled. Internazionale were interested and Lampard amid the riches around him felt relatively deprived. He wanted more money. He wanted parity, he wanted recognition.
Maybe Lampard was motivated by the knowledge that he had finally overcome the insinuations that have dogged him throughout his career that he has been over-valued - especially at West Ham United where he was said, with his father as assistant manager, to be the beneficiary of nepotism.
No longer. "Lamps", as he is known, has shone. As he sits in the Holiday Inn Hotel, near Heathrow, speaking ahead of Chelsea's pre-season tour to the United States, he appears a different figure from even 11 months ago. Then he boarded another plane, this time to play in Chelsea's qualifying game for the Champions' League against the little-known Slovakians, MSK Zilina. On the flight Lampard spoke candidly of not knowing whether he had a future at Chelsea, of where he would fit in and of the sense of fevered bewilderment felt by some players following the Roman Abramovich takeover.
But after the chaos has come calm. For all that Claudio Ranieri did for Lampard's career - "he had his own ideas which I responded well too" - Mourinho has introduced another dimension. Control. "The manager dictates everything and it is great to feel that organisation around," Lampard says.
"Everyone knows which way we are pushing and once you see that as a player you feel more confident and believe in what they [the coaches] are saying to you. And that's the feeling the players have at the moment. There is a real freshness about the training sessions and about the club as a whole." The implication being that the machinations suffered last season - not least over Ranieri's future - took their toll.
Lampard claims he, too, is fresh despite the exertions of the last year. Aged 26 he feels he could play every game if needs be - no outfield player from the top three clubs played more often last season - and adds "maybe when I'm 32 or 33 I will [find it harder]". In the days before he returned to training, later than others because of his involvement in Euro 2004, he was "just wanting to get back and see what was happening". Information was gleaned, over the phone, from his friend Eidur Gudjohnsen - who has also impressed Mourinho.
"From the beginning of the day it is spelt out exactly what you are to do," Lampard says of the twice daily training sessions. "It's intense and that's a good thing," he adds. Mourinho details every minute of every session. If something is expected to happen in the 90th minute, it happens then. It is "very football orientated. Everything has a purpose," says Lampard. "There is always an aim." That focus, he claims, is also evident in the re-shaping of the squad. "We had a strong team last year and came second in the League and got to the semi-finals of the Champions' League," he says.
"That didn't need a wholesale change it just needed different areas to be worked on." And a leaner approach. Lampard agrees that a smaller, younger squad is a good thing. The average age is now just 25. "We've signed good players and have a good idea of where we want to go and what we want to do," he says. As well as talent the players share another important attribute: desire. "When you are signing young quality players it is not just about what they do on the pitch but about what they are like as people," Lampard says. He, of course, has learnt his own bitter lessons on behaviour after an unsavoury, never to be repeated, drunken incident witnessed by American tourists the day after the September 11 attacks. Lampard has been exemplary ever since.
A smaller squad also allows Mourinho to treat his players "as his family. He really cares about his players and his team," Lampard says. He admits to being moved by the alacrity with which Mourinho, immediately after his appointment, came to see him and the other Chelsea players when they were in Manchester on England duty.
"We were impressed by that," Lampard says. "When you get a new boss you have to know his plans, whatever's happening, whether you are in or not." Lampard was never out. Indeed, when he was given the job Mourinho said he would not discuss individual Chelsea players - before adding that he "loved" Lampard. "And you can write that," he said. It has led to speculation that Lampard will be awarded the captaincy, although that is likely to remain with John Terry. "I would be surprised if it was not him," Lampard concurs.
Nevertheless, Mourinho would not baulk at such a decision. He is his own man and Lampard agrees there are similarities between him and managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger (indeed Mourinho has introduced a code of conduct similar to that in place at Highbury). "There is a unique style and there's a positive feeling that that style will be good for us," says Lampard, who displays his own control when questioned on his own time in Portugal.
"I went into the Euros not knowing whether I was going to take part and I ended up starting every game and was pretty pleased with my contributions," he says.
But Lampard quickly adds "the important thing now is to come back and not think that that means anything because all that matters is what I do now on the pitch. I need to work hard and start with the same attitude as last season. And that was to play regularly and play well."Reuse content