Lampard on the road to redemption

Worthington Cup semi-finals: Maturity not mayhem now the motif for midfielder as Chelsea's traumas continue
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The Independent Football

Wednesday's first leg of the Worthington Cup semi-final is an important date for Frank Lampard. Having "stepped out of line and let myself down badly" in a Heathrow hotel the day after the 11 September attacks in New York, the 23-year-old now hopes that the visit of Tottenham will bring a natural conclusion to the affair.

It was against Glenn Hoddle's team that Lampard, perhaps preoccupied by the result of his antics, was sent off for the first time of his career in mid-September. Worse still, that expulsion was followed by a demotion from the England squad and a dramatic dip in form, which led to a stint on the Chelsea bench. No wonder Lampard is looking forward to 2002.

Lampard says he did a fair amount of soul-searching after he and three other members of the Chelsea squad – including John Terry, who was in trouble again early on Friday morning following an incident at a Knightsbridge nightclub – were alleged to have upset American hotel guests with their unruly behaviour while scenes of the terrorist attacks were being shown on television. "What I did was naïve and silly," he admits. "It was a very disappointing time for me and my family and I know I let myself down badly. But I have learned from my mistake, and I will never let something like that happen again. I know that neither my club or country would put up with that sort of behaviour in the future, and I will prove to them that it was an isolated moment of madness."

Knuckling down seems to be paying off. Lampard starts the new year with his priorities revised, his Chelsea place regained, and an England World Cup berth back on the horizon. "I realise more than ever that if I can get success at Chelsea, then I have a chance of going to Japan and Korea next summer," he says. "The manager [Sven Goran Eriksson] has made me feel welcome again after my omission [for the Greece match following that hotel incident] and I know that I am back in his plans. Once you've experienced what it's like to lose your England place, especially when it is for non-footballing reasons, you never want to go through that feeling again."

Despite his faux pas, Lampard insists that he is delighted with the way he has settled at Chelsea. It was following the departure of his uncle, Harry Redknapp, and father, Frank Lampard Senior, from West Ham at the tail end of last season, that Lampard Junior decided to end his nine-year association with the Hammers. He has no regrets. "Chelsea is brilliant," he says, "and I am happier than I've been at any point in my career. West Ham was nice when I was younger, but this is totally different. When I joined Chelsea, I said I wanted to be with a big club and I think the fact we're challenging on all fronts proves that. We have big players, big supporters and a big stadium."

Lampard adds: "I knew this was going to be a massive challenge, but I've enjoyed myself and I think I'm big enough to meet the expectations of my £11m price tag. I've been here for half a season now, and my performances have got steadily better. It's been a little difficult at times, not least because I've played many matches on the right side of midfield, but the last four weeks or so have been really good."

While Lampard has been a model of consistency in the centre of Chelsea's midfield of late, the team are still prone to veering from the sublime to the down-right silly. Back-to-back victories over Liverpool and Bolton were followed by a narrow defeat at Arsenal and a title-boosting win at Newcastle. Then came the predictable banana skin, as lowly Southampton stormed the Bridge on 1 January. New year, same old problem.

"Obviously, we let ourselves down against Southampton," Lampard says, "but I don't accept it was because we felt that they were a lesser team. We all feel that too much is made of Chelsea's supposed Jekyll and Hyde performances. That blip aside, there is a genuine belief among the players and staff that we can do something good."

If under-performing against the underdog is their biggest problem, then logic dictates that Chelsea's players should breeze past Tottenham on Wednesday. They will not, of course, but Lampard is confident that the team will be back to their best. "It's the first leg of a cup semi-final, against a really serious London rival, so I'm sure it will be a good match," he says. "We're certainly not taking the League Cup lightly and we'll be giving it our all. If you look at what a Worthington Cup triumph did for Liverpool, it makes you realise that this could be the beginning of special times at Chelsea."

From a personal point of view, Lampard has earmarked the match as an opportunity to repair the damage done to his reputation when he received two cautions and his maiden marching orders at White Hart Lane four months ago. "It was a stupid sending-off," he says, "and it did affect me because it was my first. It hurt, but I was determined to learn from my mistake."

On and off the pitch, redemption seems to be Lampard's favourite word at the moment. "As the old saying goes," he says, "anyone can get knocked down but the important thing is to bounce back stronger." Lampard, it would seem, is doing just that.