If there is one Chelsea player whose spirit and stature might be expected to impress a new manager it is probably the indomitable John Terry. Yet although Luiz Felipe Scolari admires Terry sufficiently to recommend him to Fabio Capello as England captain, he chooses someone different as the embodiment of the club.
"Frank Lampard," Scolari said during an enlightening and good-humoured media conference lasting 90 minutes on Friday, "is a symbol of Chelsea. Him signing a new contract is what I want and need. Frank loves his job, he loves Chelsea, loves football."
The admiration appears to be mutual. Asked to compare the newcomer with Jose Mourinho, whom he was sorely tempted to join up with again at Internazionale, Lampard said: "You could see Scolari had a slightly different character the way he managed Portugal, the way he held himself on the line. That was good to see. We all like to see that kind of passion. Once the real thing starts you'll see that even more, how much he wants to be successful."
But for his mother's sudden death just before the end of last season, the lure of Italy would have been even stronger for Lampard. That sad event, however, brought an already close-knit London family closer together; and he was genuinely touched by the response from not only Chelsea but decent supporters throughout the English game.
"It has been completely overwhelming," he said. "I have had thousands of letters at the training ground. Chelsea fans have been special but I have had lots of letters from Manchester United fans, Liverpool fans, even West Ham fans. That is a breath of fresh air for me because sometimes football can make you cynical and you forget about the things that really matter. I read every letter and am in the process of trying to get back to them all."
It is appropriate, then, that he will start the new season today against a Portsmouth team managed by Uncle Harry Redknapp, once abused by West Ham fans for supposed nepotism in picking his young nephew: "I've been lucky to have great managers throughout my career and I was even luckier to have a manager in Harry who set me on the way and taught me all the values in football. He has always given me great advice and is a very wise man. The job he has done at Portsmouth is phenomenal.
"You realise exactly where they were when he came and where they are now, and look at their team player for player with the internationals and the quality they have got. There is no manager who can do the job in quite the way Harry does. He takes a player who maybe a club doesn't want, or who is coming to the end of his career, or a young player who other people don't want, and gives them a confidence and freedom to play. He has done that with Portsmouth and the way they play now, compared to staring relegation in the face, is all down to Harry."
Scolari, meanwhile, is looking forward to his first game as a club manager for seven years, hoping his one signing, Deco, will overcome a slight ankle injury, even if that gives the manager a problem in deciding who plays in midfield. With Didier Drogba injured, Nicolas Anelkais likely to play as the one central striker, offering a challenge to the manager, who wants him to be "more aggressive, more explosive". "Le Sulk" could prove a suitable case for treatmentby the female Brazilian psycho-logist Scolari is considering bringing to London if need be.
Lampard, he knows, will be in no need of motivation.Reuse content