My own thoughts on Lampard, following my colleague’s piece earlier today. “Oh my goodness, that’s incredible. Frank Lampard against Chelsea” – Steve Wilson, MoTD 2: 21/9/14 Everybody knew it was coming. Nobody could stop it. Not even the defenders who know him best. This is, to a large part, what characterizes Frank Lampard’s career. Nothing is secret about him, absolutely everyone knows that Lampard’s late runs are deadly, his stamina impeccable, his long shots regularly deadly. But no-one could stop his game, such was the beautifully effective simplicity it possesses. Short, almost anonymous passes suddenly combined with a slightly forced directness, though regularly finding an onrushing winger, or Drogba with his back to goal. He is this sense was the ideal Jose Mourinho footballer, a man who was so good at his limited role that he almost determines a system to use.
It is easy to deride him as untalented. Yet this is flawed on two levels. Firstly, it fails to identify how difficult the skill is. What other midfielder can be as offensively productive from such a deep position (yet alone his disciplined defensive duties). No-one I can think of did what he did (perhaps only Michael Ballack, and he did it with his head, rather than his feet), perhaps because he was a anachronism, a player with the skill-set typically utilized in a dynamic dual midfielder set up, yet was taught to utilize this energy with efficiency in a midfield trio . But it is also wrong because the premise is simply untrue. While his talents were limited, what people seem to forget is that the skill he perfected was not natural, but learned. Indeed, learning was his talent. In his first 2 seasons, he scored 11 league goals, not bad, but not the record one would expect for someone of his predatory instincts. The season after, admittedly with better players, and in Claude Makelele, a natural covering midfielder, he got 10, nearly doubling his total of goals in one season. In Mourinho’s first year, he got 13, 16 the season after, in 2009/10, 22 goals in 36 games. This was a development, going from a player with undoubted potential to score goals, to a proven goalscorer, from ‘Fat Frank’ to a player with undoubted staying power. Nor were the goals unimportant. He scored in FA Cup Finals, Champions League finals and knockout games, Premier League title winning matches.
Yet the striking similarity of so many of Lampard’s goals to his goal vs Chelsea seem to confirm his one dimensional nature. So many times he ghosted into the box at pace, and swiping it into the goal, clean contact or not. In this sense he is the Pippo Inzaghi of midfielders, a player of whom everyone knows what he is going to do, yet is never seen until it is too late. This, in addition to his set piece goals, and his frequent bouncing, often deflated long range strikes. But to talk of his goascoring is to do him a disservice. His assist tally was massive, his indirect set-piece delivery responsible for Chelsea’s general prowess from these situations, carefully measured slide rule passes on counter attacks, measured passing to retain a moves intensity, a deceptively well-timed tackle. Yet all these things are still skills, rather than a natural trait based upon coordination, supreme technique of physical agility. They are all trained. It is a testament to the effectiveness of his learning that someone of such limited natural gifts could come 2nd in the Ballon Do’r, and be the integral part of Chelsea’s team for 8 successive years, under 7 managers.
This is Lampard’s greatest asset. The ability to accurately assess his own game, and improve the areas required to make him as effectively as possible. In every area of his game, he developed, physical, mental, technical, tactical. Mourinho was the man who reaped most effectiveness from him. On Sunday, he was made to pay.