Garry Hayes caught up with Frank Lampard as he steps away from a glittering career…
It’s without a pause for thought that Frank Lampard declares the one moment in his career that stands out as his finest. “The Reebok Stadium has a special place in my heart and obviously a lot of Chelsea fans’ hearts as it was so long since the club had won the league,” he explains. “I scored those goals [against Bolton], so personally it was great, but the group feeling of Munich was something else.”
For Munich, think Chelsea’s epic Champions League success in 2012 when the Blues became the first London club to be crowned European champions. “The fans behind the goal, the hour on the pitch after the game, the upsets of years gone by – of nearly getting there – they all added to the size of the achievement,” Lampard remembers with a smile.
Five years on, Lampard has now retired from football, bringing down the curtain on a glorious career with a heartfelt Instagram post. A few months earlier, I spoke to him in the unfamiliar surroundings of Yankee Stadium, inside the inner sanctum of the New York City FC dressing room. Lampard was happy to reminisce about Chelsea’s special night in Munich, but although his eyes lit up at the thought of Didier Drogba scoring the winning penalty, there is one pang of regret.
“I would have liked for John to have been there [on the pitch in Munich] because we were close,” says Lampard, when I ask about the honour of being Chelsea captain that night in place of the suspended John Terry. “John deserved to be there as the captain of the club for many years. I’ve never had a huge ego in those terms. I liked taking the armband when John was out, but when he had it, I was very pleased to be his vice-captain.
“There was no ego for me; we won the game that night for each other. It was for John and me – for all of us, particularly the lads who had been at the club as a core for many years: Didier, Ashley [Cole], Big Pete [Cech]. It didn’t matter who lifted the trophy or who wore the armband. We all won it that night.”
It was arguably the most significant night in Chelsea’s history – one made all the more impressive by Roberto Di Matteo’s side beating Bayern Munich on their own patch at the Allianz Arena. Throw in clichés of German teams and penalty shoot-outs and it makes for a heroic story.
For Lampard, though, it was the climax he had been craving in football. Chelsea had come close to Champions League glory on a number of previous occasions and, with the club’s golden generation growing ever longer in the tooth, 2012 had a now-or-never feeling about it. “It was the most incredible run of a Champions League victory,” Lampard continues. “Liverpool might have an argument for the most incredible final, but our run superseded it because game after game, from being virtually out of it against Napoli, we pulled it back in.
“We went up against Barcelona [in the semi-final second leg] when they were at the pinnacle of their powers. Everyone was flying for them and with 10 men at the Nou Camp, I don’t think any other team in world football would’ve got a result there. To then win the competition in Bayern’s backyard was incredible; outstanding.”
Scorer of a recorded 211 goals for Chelsea, a winner of three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups, self-doubt isn’t a trait one would readily associate with Lampard. Yet the way things had been going for Chelsea in 2011/12, it was something that crept into his psyche. He had been burned before at home and in Europe, so when Chelsea lost 3-1 to Napoli in the Stadio San Paolo in the last 16, he and his teammates had to overcome their inner demons.
“I didn’t think we’d [win the Champions League]. We got to that stage, when we’d lost away to Napoli and I thought that was our last real pop at it as a group,” Lampard reflects.
The strife made it all the more worthwhile, though, ensuring Chelsea’s eventual success tasted that little bit sweeter. “We won it at the death and I wouldn’t have it any other way now. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have two or three other Champions League medals in my pocket, but at the same time it made that so much more special.”
There are few Chelsea fans who would disagree.