There are a number of indelible images of Frank Lampard, most of which feature the Englishman hoisting a trophy in the Chelsea blue. But perhaps the most poignant, and most telling of the man as a player and the player as a man, comes in the wake of a backbreaking loss.
The Champions League final in 2008 pit Chelsea against their English rivals, Manchester United. With the game knotted after extra time, penalties loomed on a rainy night in Moscow. Chelsea captain John Terry, with the chance to win the trophy, slipped on his attempt and sent the ball off the post. A dejected Chelsea would watch United win, 6-5.
It was Lampard, a future captain, that would be spotted comforting a disconsolate Terry. Lampard was midway through his Chelsea career by then, but he’d already made himself iconic.
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Throughout his 13 years at Chelsea, Lampard won plenty of silverware. The Champions League triumph, three Premier League titles, four FA Cup titles, two League Cups and a smattering of others, if Chelsea were lifting a trophy there’s a good chance Lampard played a hand in it. The one trophy that so painfully eluded Lampard and Chelsea would finally be theirs four years later.
When Lampard announced his decision to retire from the game on Thursday, he did so as Chelsea’s greatest player ever. And there’s no debate about it. The argument could be made that he’s England’s greatest player ever, even — but that debate’s best served for a later date.
It’s not just the production on the field that puts Lampard on that pedestal. Though, it is impossible to understate his 211 goals and more than 150 assists in 648 total appearances for the club. Lampard brought more to the Blues than any other player had, and probably ever will. Lampard’s attitude and devotion were unmatched.
When he first arrived at the club from West Ham for a then-pricey fee of £11 million in summer 2001, he’d already been deemed an overpriced bust. He did little to shake that label as he struggled early during his tenure. But he let the criticism fuel him and put in the hard work, and by 2004 he was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year. Following the death of his 58-year-old mother, Lampard returned to Chelsea just a week later and drilled an extra-time penalty against Liverpool to reach that fateful 2008 Champions League final.
The likes of Didier Drogba, Terry, Gianfranco Zola and the late Peter Osgood all have their claims as the club’s greatest player. Drogba brought the strength. Terry, the stability. Zola, the silky skill. Osgood, the goals.
But Lampard brought it all, and he brought it nearly every match for the Blues. Even as his career with Chelsea wound down and his role began to be reduced, he found himself involved in Chelsea’s biggest moments. It was he that would captain Chelsea to their first Champions League trophy, beating Bayern Munich as prohibitive underdogs.
That’s why he’s Chelsea’s greatest-ever player. As “Super Frank” he embodied what it meant to be a Blue, through and through. Anyone questioning that need look no further than the two Champions League finals — victory in Munich and that cold, rainy defeat in Moscow. Be it in ecstasy or misery, he stood above it all.